Places you may have visited
By Nicola Freeman
Concerns continue to grow over Facebook’s new Places
application, which allows users to check-in and let friends know where
they are. At face value, Places sounds harmless enough, satisfying the
look-at-me urges of a few thousand members, while providing a credible
alternative to location-based competitors like Foursquare.
problems start when users also seek to check-in their friends. Let’s
look at an example. Dave is at a trendy downtown bar waiting to meet his
ex-girlfriend Linda and wants the whole world – or at least his
Facebook world – to know. He checks himself in and, because Linda is one
of his Facebook friends, he checks her in as well.
Linda has been having second thoughts. She recently started dating
another guy and doesn’t want to risk upsetting him. As all three of them
have mutual friends, both on and off Facebook, “new guy” could easily
find out about the drink with Dave and get the wrong idea. At the last
minute she decides not to show up. Dave will get over it.
Linda is also smart. She knows Dave has a habit of broadcasting his
social life to the world, so she goes on Facebook and blocks Dave on
Places. This way, if he tries to check her in at the bar, it won’t
appear on her page. Linda relaxes and turns on the TV – she just
sidestepped a potential minefield.
Unfortunately, it’s not that
simple. Unbeknownst to Linda, Dave had already checked her in, before he
realized she was a no-show. Although the Places update didn’t appear on
Linda’s page, it’s there on Dave’s page for all the world to see,
including the new boyfriend.
By now, Dave is fully aware that
Linda’s not going to show up and he’s partly ticked off and partly
embarrassed. He will look stupid if he checks-in again, this time on his
own; everyone will know what happened. He decides to leave the Places
update as it is. He won’t lose any face and it serves her right for
standing him up.
Too far-fetched? Hardly. With 500 million people
on Facebook and many people’s pages littered with ex-boyfriends and even
more complicated relationships, it’s easy to imagine this kind of thing
happening all the time. Admittedly, the vast majority of members have
not even taken the time to understand what Places is all about. But in
many ways, that makes it worse, leaving them even more vulnerable to
erroneous check-ins, whether posted innocently or not.
Facebook has responded by pointing out that there has never been
anything to stop members claiming that they are with someone even if
they are not. They could just make up some fictitious story and post it
to their news feed.
That’s true, but somehow Places seems more
official. It’s specifically designed to disclose people’s locations and,
if someone appears in a Places map, then that will carry a lot of
weight. To post a later update claiming that you weren’t where Places
said you were at best creates a lame “he said, she said” debate, or at
worst looks like a cover-up.
We are in the early days of Places
and people are just starting to get to grips with how it works and what
it all means. But if the current operating rules are allowed to stand,
the Facebook privacy debate just got a whole new lease of life!