Facebook launches "Places," geo-location service that's both cool and creepy

Facebook launches "Places," geo-location service that's both cool and creepy

Summary: Facebook launches a built-in geo-location services tool called Places.

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It was perhaps the worst kept secret since, well, Apple's iPhone 4. Facebook today is announcing a new feature, called Places, that allows users to share their locations with friends - and allows their friends to be updated in real-time.

The goal, of course, is to take the virtual relationships that we've recreated with old friends on Facebook and bring them into the physical world, too. And, if you really start to look beyond that, you can imagine the interaction you might have with local businesses who will know that you're in the area - and might want to entice you into their businesses with a coupon or some other promotion.

At a pretty crowded event at Facebook HQ today, the company didn't spend much time talking about details. CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a brief introduction of the product, a product manager came out and talked about some specifics - emphasizing how important privacy is to Facebook and its users.

Also see: New location 'feature' expected, but can Facebook be trusted?

And then it was time for presentations from partners - Gowalla, Yelp, Foursquare, Booyah. Of course, it was all very ooh-aah as the companies talked about integrating Facebook places into their products. The partners were excited - "super-stoked," as the feeling was described by one.

I couldn't help but feel somewhat less-than-excited for Foursquare, which had an exec on stage to talk about how Facebook Places validates what Foursquare is doing, how their vision for "check-in" services is the the next phase for social networking and computing. Still, I couldn't help but think that the exec was almost delivering a Foursquare eulogy.

I'm not much of a Foursquare user nor am I a big fan of telling anyone on the Internet where I am at any given moment - other than my last "I'm at Facebook HQ" status update on my Facebook page. With that said, I realize that there are people who would love to connect with friends at bars, restaurants, shopping malls and so on. But I'm not one of them.

There were a few instances when the execs on-hand today made this service sound creepier than it needed to be. The idea that guests at a party at my home could turn my home address into a public "place" on Facebook and my only recourse is to flag my address to have it removed.

I also didn't like the idea of letting my friends "tag" me at their locations. If we're all a concert, for example, and a friend checks in with Places, he can "tag" the people who he's with - just as if you were tagging a person in a photo. Yes, I have to give my permission first and yes, I can also "untag" myself - but who wants to be a party pooper like that?

And throughout it all, I couldn't help but wonder how long it takes for the API to be used for a "Who's not home?" app for burglars. I'm just sayin'...

Still, it seems that Facebook went to great extremes to maintain some forms of privacy, notably by setting the default to "Friends Only" and allowing them to take it further and not check-in at all.

Initially, the service will only be available as an iPhone app or through a special touch.facebook.com web site - which the company says works really nice on Android and other smartphones. Apps for other devices are coming soon - but . And, by default, the service will set to "Friends Only." For now, it's only available in the U.S. The rollout begins immediately.

Finally, I'll note that today's launch event was one of the most bizarre I've ever attended. The team rang a gong and someone literally pulled a giant "launch" switch to make it official. Quirky, maybe but when your user base is 500 million strong and you can bring together a large crowd with just a couple of days notice, then you get to hit all the gongs you want, I suppose.

Topics: Security, Hardware, Mobility, Smartphones, Social Enterprise

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32 comments
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  • Foursquare?

    Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!

    Sorry had to be said ;-)
    tonymcs@...
    • RE: Facebook launches

      look look http://ta.gg/4or
      lincc240
      • RE: Facebook launches

        @lincc240 I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!
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        disturbforce
  • RE: Facebook launches

    There is something similar already on FB...

    http://apps.facebook.com/el_mapa
    spatialideas
  • RE: Facebook launches

    All the more reasons to avoid Facebook like the plague.
    drf999
    • RE: Facebook launches

      I hate FB. It's a real FB mania in the whole world. Spreading day by day. It finally wil come to an end and disapper like other social media stuff which made people computer addicted. http://www.handyortungkostenlos.eu/Prepaid-Handy-Orten
      Ibiossa
  • RE: Facebook launches

    Another way for people to tell you they are not home.
    Loverock Davidson
  • Creepy Creepy

    Shouldn't they just call it Facebook Stalker?
    cyberslammer
    • Nice one!

      @cyberslammer
      Nice one cyberslammer! :D
      naibeeru
  • RE: Facebook launches

    I'm seriously impressed by Bing Maps, the technology platform powering Facebook Places.
    Tim Acheson
  • Compare?

    How does this compare to Google Latitude? There you also can track your friends, and Google isn't a poster child for privacy and leak factors.
    wmayo44
  • Won't be using it...

    This is no different than Loopt, a service that does nearly the same thing and has been available for much longer. And Sam, your concern about someone using the API to find out who's not home is not impossible - it's not likely, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities.
    chas_2
  • RE: Facebook launches

    Can all the press and everyone stop using "500 million strong!" It's so misleading. I'd wager that at least half of those accounts are 1-time logins or accounts that haven't been touched or logged into for months.
    Droid101
  • I won't be using facebook

    I have stopped using Facebook since they removed their abuse reporting email address. They now want you to sign in and go through all their crap to report a facebook scammer. Who's got that much time. I'm fed up being offered nude pics or links to prostitution sites by facebook users.
    dfruk@...
    • RE: Facebook launches

      In total agreement here... I get nuff spam from the Russians without the facebook trolls.
      Machead26
    • RE: Facebook launches

      @dfruk@... your right somebody have to shut down that site before it take cyber war to anther level
      zak94ma
      • RE: Facebook launches

        @zak94ma - Ummm - if you don't like it don't use it. Why start babbling about shutting it down so that several hundred people who do like it won't be able to use it anymore? Who are you to determine what everyone else can do?
        gslea@...
  • Can a Facebook acquisition of Foursquare be far away?

    We all see it coming, right?
    RationalGuy
    • RE: Facebook launches

      @RationalGuy I hope not! The appeal of Foursquare is that it's smaller and more local, whereas Facebook acts with similar concerns for the individual as Apple does. Also, I've carefully chosen the people that can follow me on Foursquare, whereas privacy on Facebook is a mystical free-for-all.
      yarbroughmel
    • RE: Facebook launches

      @RationalGuy Yep. We'll tell our grandchildren what life--sans tether--was like, and they will look at us like we just landed in a spacecraft.
      TaxNerd