After several months of anticipation, Facebook will begin rolling out location-based status updates sometime this month, according to reports from Advertising Age.
As has been said time and again, this move puts other LBS services, such as Gowalla, Foursquare and BrightKite, in a tight place, but one question remains – do you trust Facebook with knowing where you are?
According to the article in Advertising Age, global fast food chain McDonalds is already looking at creating a special app to use Facebook’s location features that “would allow users to check in at one of its restaurants and have a featured product appear in the post, such as an Angus Quarter Pounder”.
While some are wondering if this will be the killer of these location-based check-in apps, we have to wonder how users will feel about giving Facebook their location data. Does the recent dust-up over Facebook’s privacy changes hint at a problem for Facebook or have we stopped caring about privacy, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg asserted last January?
While you might argue that we willingly share our location all the time using these other LBS apps, there is a primary difference here: we joined those services with precisely that intention. Each time we considered a friend request, it was with the explicit intent of sharing our location with that person. Facebook connections, on the other hand, might be for sharing links or catching up on the 15 years that have passed since we last saw each other. With Foursquare and Gowalla we knew full well, from the get-go, that the interaction would involve rather precise GPS coordinates being given out in real-time. In other words, sharing location was a very real consideration in who we decided to “friend” or “ignore”. But when I said “okay” to that one, sort of creepy kid from high school, I never thought it would mean sharing my real-time location with him.
As far as how this information will be shared on Facebook, we have yet to hear the real details. Will this be yet another opt-out feature that Facebook forces on its 400 million users? Will McDonalds be the next in line to automatically get my information, this time something I consider much more sensitive, unless I go out of my way to say no?
While we made some arguments shortly after the F8 Facebook Developer conference that maybe Facebook’s sharing of your information, such as sharing musical interests and demographics with Pandora, might not be all that scary, Facebook’s handling of privacy has been less than perfect.
So, does Facebook need to take a closer look at privacy controls and ensure its users that it won’t sell their location data along with the rest of it or do we just not care? As far as we’re concerned, we’ll still carefully update our Facebook statuses as if our mothers were always watching (since they are), but Facebook is going to need to prove that it understands the nuances of privacy in relation to location before we start using a dedicated Facebook location check-in service.