IPhone-owning Facebook users may quickly become the most visible users of the popular social networking site, due to a new feature made available Friday. Facebook’s “Places” feature allows a user with Facebook’s iPhone application to use the phone’s GPS to broadcast his or her location—following pre-input landmarks—to update his or her Facebook profile in real-time.
A Facebook spokesperson was quoted as saying the new feature was an attempt to accommodate users who already use their Facebook status boxes to narrate their whereabouts.
It’s important to note that this is not unbroken ground. The social networking site Foursquare awards users points for “checking in” at certain locations using their GPS enabled phones—and users have the option of posting their Foursquare locations on Facebook and Twitter. Businesses stand to gain a lot from a feature like Places, which will enable them to target people on the go, not just those seated at computer screens. While the Places feature suggests Big Brother-style surveillance to some, Facebook’s latest toy is an opt-in feature, so those who don’t want to trumpet their location on an immediate basis are free to stay away. Those who choose to use the Places feature should exercise common sense in doing so. While some people don’t mind the idea of their Facebook friends being able to track them online, it’s important to remember that Facebook profiles can be left logged in on public computers, or compromised by snooping friends. Facebook offers its usual range of adjustable privacy preferences in terms of how a user’s location is shared, and any responsible user should be familiar with how they work.
The concerns don’t stop there, however. Other users have the option to input addresses to track their location—including those referring to friends who don’t have the feature. While a Facebook representative was quoted as saying that unwanted information can be taken down “within a matter of hours,” the thought of one’s home address secretly floating around on the internet is disconcerting at best.
Any process of social networking involves placing some personal information in the public eye. In this sense, Facebook’s Places feature is a handy reminder of the real purpose of social media. As much as it’s comforting to imagine that websites like Facebook exist to facilitate social networking, they also serve the interests of the advertisers and companies that use them to target clientele. Ultimately it falls to the users to exercise caution and avoid putting themselves in harm’s way.
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