Facebook confirmed today that it is working on a location-based product but said that it has re-evaluated its plans to focus more on places like restaurants.
As part of a larger blog post about clarifying language around privacy controls, Facebook deputy general counsel Michael Richter said today that the company now has "different ideas" that are "even more exciting" than what it previously planned to do with location. More details will be available, including regarding privacy, as the company finalizes the product.
Anonymous sources told the New York Times earlier this year that Facebook was developing a location feature to be released at the F8 developers conference in April.
Here's the relevant section of today's post:
So, we've removed the old language and, instead added the concept of a "place" that could refer to a Page, such as one for a local restaurant. As we finalize the product, we look forward to providing more details, including new privacy controls.
The reference to Pages like local restaurants may allude to a very close tie-in with local business advertising at the launch of the location feature.
The difference between location and "place" is a significant one. Substantial resources are dedicated by location-aware social networks to determine what "place" your location refers to. That might mean neighborhood, it might mean business name and it might mean recognizing when you are posting from home so that location can be selectively hidden if you so choose.
What kind of "place" analysis does Facebook have in mind that goes beyond location? Time will tell, but hopefully user privacy will be handled effectively. Location disclosure is a very touchy subject and Facebook's recent about-face towards a default all-public privacy stance could cause a substantial backlash when it comes to the mainstreaming of location sharing.
Physical location is one of the most sensitive forms of information we posses and it's going to be very tempting for Facebook to push people towards being more public than they might like. Can the company get the balance right? Privacy and useful features are the two big questions.