Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 20, 2010

Facebook unveils new 'Places' feature

Users can share their real-time locations — but not everyone 'Likes' new function

by Chris Kenrick

Facebook Wednesday unveiled its much-anticipated "Places" feature, allowing users to share their real-time locations as well as to identify friends who are there with them.

Even as privacy advocates complained the new service lacks safeguards to protect sensitive information, the Palo Alto company's officers said it will connect people and build community in new ways.

The service will "help people share where they are in a really nice and social way," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.

"It can help people stay connected not just at home but everywhere they travel in the world."

Zuckerberg said he knew the service was ready to launch when he was showing a prototype to his girlfriend while dining in a Menlo Park restaurant and they could see that a Facebook colleague and his fiancée were dining at a nearby restaurant.

"It was at that moment, when that kind of serendipitous thing happened, that we knew the product was ready to go," Zuckerberg said.

Zuckerberg was joined Wednesday by executives of other place-oriented Web companies — Foursquare, Gowalla, Yelp and Booyah — who said they were pleased to have the social media giant enter the arena. Facebook has more than 500 million active users, according to its website.

"This is a great thing for the still-small location-check-in industry that Facebook is entering this market because it validates that we're onto something, that we're actually adding value, that this will be a much bigger thing going forward," Gowalla Chief Technical Officer Scott Raymond said.

But not everyone "Likes" the new feature.

In a statement, the ACLU of Northern California said the new "Places" feature does not go far enough to protect privacy.

"Facebook made some changes to its regular privacy practices to protect sensitive information, such as limiting the default visibility of check-ins on your feed to 'Friends Only.'

"But it has failed to build in some other important privacy safeguards.

"'Places' allows your friends to tag you when they check in somewhere, and Facebook makes it very easy to say 'yes' to allowing your friends to check in for you. But when it comes to opting out of that feature, you are only given a 'not now' option (aka ask me again later). 'No' isn't one of the easy options."

Zuckerberg and colleagues stressed the friendlier aspects of the new service, even suggesting the new "Places" technology can bolster civic engagement by restoring the importance of what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls the "third place" — public gathering spaces.

"What we're doing is keeping the 'third place' alive and well," Facebook vice-president Chris Cox said.

"Technology is the thing that pulls us away from the TV and out to the nightclub, concert, theater or bar. Technology does not need to estrange us from one another."

Cox said Places can help friends find one another not only in real time — such as at a crowded Lollapalooza concert in Chicago — but over decades.

"Our collective stories are going to be pinned to a physical location," he said.

"Maybe one day in 20 years our children will go to Ocean Beach in San Francisco and (the technology will tell them), 'This is where your parents had their first kiss. This is the photo they took afterward, and this is what their friends said about the photo."

The announcement came in what was billed as a "press event" but which morphed into a "launch night" at Facebook's California Avenue headquarters.

Reporters who turned up at 4:30 p.m. waited 30 minutes before being asked to board shuttle buses to a different Facebook location. There they were ushered into a large lounge and joined by hundreds of others, including Facebook employees and partners.

Zuckerberg finally took the microphone at 5:25 p.m.

"It's great to have everyone come together and have a launch night," he said.

"This is going to be a really fun and interesting summer. We have a lot of new products that we're building and that are coming out.

"We have a lot of other interesting launch nights coming up this summer."

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Alice Smith, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 19, 2010 at 10:48 am

I can't imagine an easier way to help organized crime along, telling them when your place will be empty by telling them when you are on vacation. Like leaving messages on your answerphone. Sorry, not back til x day does the same thing.

Let's be a little bit cautious just how much personal info one puts out there.


Posted by More Info, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2010 at 11:43 am

Found info on the web regarding this new FB feature:

Web Link

Page 1 of 8 mentions there is a way to disable this feature:
With Places' "People Here Now" feature, you will be able to see other people, including users who are not your Facebook friends, who have also recently checked in to your location (although this can be disabled) Facebook explains, "This section is visible for a limited amount of time and only to people who are checked in there. That way you can meet other people who might share your interests. If you prefer not to appear in this section, you can control whether you show up by unchecking the "Include me in 'People Here Now' after I check in" privacy control." Minors will only see their friends.

Also, on page 3 of 8 of this article, it mentions that this feature is only available with Smartphones and Blackberry, which in order to use, one will have to download to phone, so hopefully the user truly does have a choice whether or NOT they want to share location.


Posted by More Info, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2010 at 11:45 am

Correction in last paragraph: is only available with Smartphones and iPhones (not Blackberry)


Posted by Bill, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 19, 2010 at 12:30 pm

> The service will "help people share where they are in a really
> nice and social way," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.

Wonder if Mr. Zuckerberg will be saying the same thing when he grows up and expects to live his life as a private person?


Posted by C, a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Facebook makes it to easy to get and give info and I am not really in the mood for some friends to know my every thought. So don't bother looking for me on there. And I really don't think everybody needs to know where I am.


Posted by don't use it, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 19, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Quit whining. If you don't want to use this feature, then don't use it. You don't have to quit Facebook to avoid this feature (like you would have to do if you want to avoid some of Facebook's other new features).


Posted by Jane, a resident of University South
on Aug 19, 2010 at 5:14 pm

We are being driven by the need for technology to earn money - so that our lives are tied to these gadgets more and more heavily. How sad. . .


Posted by Busy Geek, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2010 at 8:18 pm

It is a huge waste of time having to check each day to see what your friends are saying. It is a lot faster just to call and talk.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 19, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Perfect for narcissists.


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