Posted August 19, 2010 12:05 am by with 4 comments

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Facebook’s location service called Places (couldn’t they have worked a little harder on naming it something a little more pithy?) is here. All of the guessing, wondering and speculating can end. Now, after all is said and done guess who has the last word on Facebook’s move to tell everyone where everyone else is at every moment of everyone’s existence? Why the ACLU of course!

From the website of the Northern California ACLU

Following Facebook’s announcement today about its new location-based product, Places, here’s what the ACLU of Northern California has to say on the privacy front:

Facebook made some changes to its regular privacy practices to protect sensitive location-based information, such as limiting the default visibility of check-ins on your feed to “Friends Only.” But it has failed to build in some other important privacy safeguards.

In the world of Facebook Places, “no” is unfortunately not an option.
Places allows your friends to tag you when they check in somewhere, and Facebook makes it very easy to say “yes” to allowing your friends to check in for you. But when it comes to opting out of that feature, you are only given a “not now” option (aka ask me again later). “No” isn’t one of the easy options.

And if you use Places yourself, you aren’t even given a “not now;” you’re just told that friends are able to check-in for you and left to discover for yourself that you can change this setting by digging into your privacy controls. (Visit our Facebook Places resource page for instructions about how to manage your privacy settings)

Well, now that we’ve got the inevitable ‘Facebook tramples our privacy’ stuff out of the way, what about this new service? In summary

You gotta have an iPhone to use it.

Whoa! Wait a minute! Who put this service together, AT&T? Maybe this is the real evidence that Verizon is getting the iPhone in January since only the cool kids can play along until then. Well there are a few others according to the Facebook blog

You also can access Places from if your mobile browser supports HTML 5 and geolocation.

In short, this is not the complete death knell for the likes of foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp and Booyah’s MyTown since they are partnered with Facebook in one way or another. It is, however, the notice that they may all need to kneel at the Facebook altar in order to survive moving forward.

Now, rather than have me tell you exactly how this new service works I thought it would be best to get it straight from the geolocation horse’s mouth

With Places, you are in control of what you share and the people you share with. 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.

Only your friends can see when you visit or are tagged at a place, unless you have specifically set your master privacy control to “Everyone.” You also have the choice to set more restrictive customized settings.

When a friend tags you through Places, you will receive a notification on Facebook and on your mobile device. The first time this happens, you’ll be given the choice to allow your friends to check you in to places.

When your friends check you in, it is as if you have checked in at that place yourself. You also will appear checked-in to your friends. If you do not allow friends to check you in, then when they tag you at a place, your name will appear in the same way it appears in a tagged status update. You will not appear checked-in at that place.

You can always remove any Places check-in or tag using your mobile device or on the web. It’s like removing yourself from a photo tag. You also have the choice to turn off the ability for friends to check you in at Places. Go to your Privacy Settings and turn off the setting to “Let Friends Check Me In.”

Ahem. Did you get that? It’s like the social media version of “You know, that I know, that you know what I know” as far as I can tell.

So I think it will be a while before the dust settles on this one. Facebook says it is not monetizing the service out of the gate but may do something in the future. May do something? That’s like saying that the sun may come up tomorrow. Sure there is a chance of it not happening but it is real slim.

So are you excited about the Facebook Places offering? What are your thoughts?

  • Barry Schnitt

    We’re disappointed that ACLU ignores the numerous privacy protections and controls in Places and seem generally misinformed on how it works. Specifically:
    — No location information is shared with anyone unless someone explicitly chooses to become part of location sharing.
    — No one can be checked in to a location without their explicit permission.
    — For those who choose to share their location, we offer additional controls that restrict the ability of applications to get information about their location.
    –Third parties have applauded our controls, indicating that people have more protections using Facebook Places than other widely used location services available today.

    Barry Schnitt
    Director, Policy Communications

    • Barry –


      We don’t really like to report about the naysayers but it’s a part of the landscape especially for Facebook considering your track record.

      Please keep us updated with any more information.

  • There is something similar already on FB…

  • This is cool. I noticed that logo with the 4 in a square.