On August 18, 2010, Facebook rolled out Facebook Places, a new location-based feature that allows Facebook users to “check in” at their current physical location and “tag” friends who are there with them. The feature also gives Facebook users access to a “Here Now” function that permits users to determine what other Facebook members are at the same location at or around the same time.
Location-based social networking has attracted many start-up companies, such as the immensely popular Foursquare, which is Facebook Places’ main competitor, as well as Google Latitude, Gowalla, loopt, and brightkite. Still, concerns have already been raised over Facebook Places’ privacy implications.
Facebook has sought to address privacy concerns, setting Facebook Places’ default setting for visibility of a user’s location to “Friends Only,” and permitting each user to opt in to being tagged by a particular friend the first time such friend seeks to tag the user. Nevertheless, Facebook Places has drawn criticism for not providing a “single” opt out from all location-based functionality and for its lack of transparency with respect to how advertisers and marketers will be using location information; indeed, the Center for Digital Democracy has stated that it will be raising the latter issue with the FTC.
Interestingly, Foursquare implemented several privacy-related measures prior to Facebook Places’ launch, including by providing an intuitive grid of privacy defaults on its site, which measures have been well received in the trade press.
Given the FTC’s interest in location information (for example, a panel discussion on mobile “location-based services” was held during the FTC’s 2008 Town Hall meeting on mobile marketing), and indications that the FTC may require opt-in consent for the use of precise geolocation (for example, see staff comments on pages 43 and 44 of the FTC Staff Report: Self-Regulatory Principles For Online Behavioral Advertising), we anticipate further developments in privacy measures for location-based social networking in the future.