Facebook Launches New “Places” Feature; Boon for Local Businesses But Scary for Privacy?

“Places is not about broadcasting your location to the world. it’s about sharing where you are with your friends.”

Michael Sharron, Facebook

Facebook today launched a new dimension to their already mammoth presence on the web. This will have huge implications for your privacy on Facebook, but also presents new opportunities for your organization.

First: DON’T PANIC. I’ll walk you through this!

It’s called “Places” and they call it a “product.” It will automatically be available to you as a Facebook user (no charge, of course), just like Groups, Pages, Apps, Games, etc. currently are.

If you’re familiar with mobile apps like Foursquare and Gowalla, then you already “get” what Places is about. If you’ve never heard of these apps, don’t worry.

Places, says Facebook, has three purposes:

  • Get a notification when you are someplace and a friend of yours is nearby
  • Discover new places wherever you are (restaurants, stores, businesses, etc.)
  • Connect with your online friends in a face-to-face way in “serendipitous moments”

So in a nutshell, you’re eating dinner at a restaurant. You’ll be able to “check in” there, via your phone, on Facebook. Your friends might be eating at the same restaurant, or across the street. They see your checkin (or you see theirs), and realize you’re nearby. You can get together and maybe share a meal or a drink afterwards. This is the “serendipitous moment” Facebook refers to.

You can see how this might incite panic in people who are already concerned about privacy on Facebook! This enables real-time stalking! Everyone will know when you’re away from home and can break into your house! PANIC!

Of course, Facebook anticipated this, and made sure to give you very flexible privacy settings to control who sees your checkins, IF you even choose to participate in Places, which you certainly do not have to.

Your default setting for Places is to be opted out. So you won’t have to check anything or change your settings to make sure you’re not included.

So, don’t worry. Nobody knows where you are right now. (well, they probably do, actually…but that’s a different article). The truth is, if you’re on Facebook at all, a lot of your information is available if someone knows how to find it. The bottom line for privacy online is to not put information out there unless you feel okay about strangers seeing it.

Anyway, let’s look at a few of the features of Places and see how it can be a GOOD thing for your organization!

Most Places will be created by users. So if you’re using Places on your iPhone, you’d want to create a Place for your shelter or adoption center. At first, any Place you create will only be visible to you and your friends. If enough people check in at this same Place over time, though, it will become public and then anyone can see it and check in.

This is good news, because it means that if someone creates a Place at, say, my apartment, chances are it won’t become public because not a lot of people check in there. And if it does, for some reason (like if I have a lot of parties), then I can flag it to be removed. So obviously, if you’re concerned about privacy or safety, don’t check in at your home address or any other private location.

This will only immediately be available for iPhone users in mobile form. They are going to release it for Android and Blackberry, but haven’t given a timetable for that.

However, this doesn’t keep you from participating if you don’t have an iPhone.

Let’s say I’m out to dinner with five friends and I’m the only one who has an iPhone. I can take a picture of my friends and check in at the restaurant, and then I can “tag” those five friends in my check in. All my Facebook friends will see on my wall that I checked in at such and such restaurant. Now, once I’ve tagged those friends, the ball is in their court. When they log in to Facebook next (maybe when they get home, or from their phone), they will get a notification–just like you do now when someone tags you in a photo. They get to choose whether to accept that tag. They can remove it or they can accept it. If they accept it, then it appears on their wall that they checked in at such and such restaurant.

This is going to work in very much the same way as tagging photos. Except instead of tagging you in a photo, friends can tag you at a location.

So if you’re my friend, and you are there with me at that restaurant, and you decide that you’d rather not have all your Facebook friends know you were there, you don’t have to allow the checkin. It’s that simple.

If you know already that you don’t want to accept ANY checkins, then you can categorically reject the Places product from your privacy settings page. OR you can say that you only want to allow checkin information to be shared with select users (and you can choose exactly who those individuals are). Or you can get notifications individually, as they happen, and choose on a case-by-case basis.

So I have 250 or so Facebook friends. Obviously I am not close friends with ALL of those people, nor do I need them to see where I am throughout the day (and they probably don’t care, either!). So I might have only ten friends who I want to allow to see my Places checkins. I can specify those ten people in my privacy settings.

So Places are really for you as an individual–to interact with your Profile on Facebook. What about your business or organization page?

From the mobile app (currently just on iPhone), there will be a little button when you check in at a place that says “Is this your business?” you can then click on that button and link it to your Facebook fan page, if you’re an admininstrator on that page.

It should be noted that Gowalla, Yelp, Booyah and Foursquare ALL are onboard as launch partners with Facebook on this project. So rather than choosing to fight the 800-lb gorilla that is Facebook, they are joining hands. Look for those apps to change over the next few weeks as they integrate with Places.

So what should you DO now?!

Facebook is rolling out the Places feature to users in stages. Not everyone will have it at once. Probably over the next few days, everyone will have it.

Nothing will change right at first, unless your friends are the type who jump onboard and are early adopters. But once Places is available to you (Facebook will notify you when you login), you can go and change your privacy settings if you wish.

I would recommend you not do this just yet, though. At least create a Place for your organization first and tie it to your fan page. Places provides a great opportunity for nonprofits and small businesses to get more local exposure. For these types of places, I’d say this is the best thing since Google Local!

What questions can I answer for you about Facebook Places?

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I'm available via most social media, so drop me a line! I'll answer your questions and I really look forward to hearing from you and helping if I can!

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