Facebook Places hits the US

19 Aug 2010

Facebook launched the highly anticipated new services ‘Places’ in the US on Wednesday. The app allows users to check in to places they visit and broadcast this information to their friends online.

The app is available today for most smartphones in the US, with other countries to be added soon, according to Facebook..

iPhone users can get it by downloading the latest Facebook app, but other smartphone owners can visit the mobile Facebook page as long as their browser supports HTML5 and geolocation.

The service works similarly to location-based networks such as Foursquare and Gowalla. It gives users the option of sharing their location by ‘checking in’ to that place in order to let their friends know where they are.

It can also be used to see if other friends are nearby.

Users can add locations if they are not on the list and can also tag their friends if they happen to be with them in that location.

However, the section that shows which friends are with you is only visible for a limited amount of time and only to people who are checked in at that location.

Facebook says you can control whether you show up at a location by unchecking the “Include me in ‘People Here Now’ after I check in” option.

Facebook has also included other security options, such as more customised privacy settings and having the choice to allow your friends tag you.

“With Places, you are in control of what you share and the people you share with,” says Michael Sharon, Facebook’s project manager of Places.

“You choose whether or not to share your location when you check in at a place.

“When you check in, you can tag friends who are with you but only if their settings allow it. When you are tagged, you are always notified.”

Privacy issues

However, many have been critical of the privacy issues people could encounter using Places.

“What we see with Facebook is a massive learning curve,” said Rainey Reitman, spokeswoman for Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in the US.

“Every time they make a change, consumers scramble to figure out the privacy settings.

“Location data is tied to people’s safety – if people know where you are, they know where you’re not,” she added.

“Your location data is some of the most sensitive data we have. I expect we’ll see from the get-go people who don’t understand how to control the privacy settings.”

It is hoped that this service will help promote small, local businesses by using social networking to spread the word about their presence.

This app will put Facebook in an increased competitive position with Google, which also has many initiatives to ensure small businesses are easy to find.