Facebook Places is a half-baked attempt at competing with Google Places and FourSquare and a success at violation your personal privacy....
Facebook has finally rolled out its location feature today, in what seems to be a stamp down on FourSquare and Gowalla’s growing dominance of locational based badges and social networking, but are they going to ruin it for everyone? Facebook is a global platform so today’s announcement that going just allow the product to their US members is more of a slap in the Face of their growing international audience, which according to official Facebook statistics, they are only concerned with offering their product to 30% of their users. Once again Facebook is trying to set the rules in social media and well there is a good chance that you or your business is not invited!
How can Facebook with over 70% of its audience outside of the USA, launch a new product that is just usable for their US members, and that’s not counting the international audience that is currently visiting, working or living in the US. It seems that the Facebook Places functionality is not just geographically limited to those who have created an account in the US and not those who have a current location as being in the USA. Its not clear if this is a move by the company to segment user data via the initial settings, but doesn’t make sense that accounts might be treated different based on their initial settings. People change and move but it seems Facebook hasn’t yet worked that concept into its platform… people share but don’t ever move country….
Facebook Places So What?
So Facebook has started marketing the service as the ability to share where you are, what you are doing and the friends that are with you right now, but several other platforms already offer that functionality and don’t violate your privacy on a daily basis. The other idea of connecting to friends nearby is not a ground breaking option and is also very limited to those who are using an iPhone and can once again already be done by a number of platforms such as FourSquare, Google Latitude or Gowalla, so do we really need another me too app?
Facebook Geolocation limited to iPhones
It seems that a few other people were having some issues with Facebook places already even the US audience and has been intentionally held back as Facebook is trying to test to see if their severs can handle the service. Another aspect of failure around launching a product that clearly was not ready was a new version of the Facebook iPhone app was required if you wanted to use the service, it’s not ready and its a concern that Facebook continues to be cutting out the testing stage before launching new products. This seems to bring a level of concern that the platform might be a stable enough. My early testing shows that might be a bit problem with the user adoption of its Facebook places product as its fairly slow to locate you running on Wifi, imagine how slow that will be on older iPhone models running on EDGE or 2G. But maybe Facebook doesn’t really want to develop its platform so Google Android users can use it but a good question will be if it is available for the Windows7 Phone from day 1?
Facebook has a perfect mobile audience
Being that more than 150,000,000 active users are currently accessing Facebook via their mobile devices it shows a huge audience but the launch of this platform shows that it’s not yet ready for market as its only available to iPhone users. A larger number of mobile users are not using devices as advanced as iPhones that support W3 geolocation that limit its potential audience, it is also unclear with a larger number of Facebook users using SMS to update their status can be integrated into the Facebook Places platform. So even when they have 150 million mobile users its a struggle to understand how they could have failed to build a platform that allowed all their mobile users to utilise their places platform.
Facebook just copied Google
As for naming a product after a competitor is not really a smart move from marketing perspective and its likely to confuse less technical users as the difference between Facebook Places & Google Places, and why the hell can’t they just work together? By creating a new place for business to register and claim their online presence may lead the a low acceptance of businesses and defeat any future commercialisation plans that Facebook might have in the pipeline around local advertising. The big difference is that Google Places receives a massive traffic exposure via Google Local results as shown below which is of massive commercial value to businesses but it doesn’t appear that Facebook has matched what a competitor already offers. If you are going to copy a competitor seek to at least improve on its product…
The search results for a known place on Facebook that has already recorded 2 checkins, doesn’t actually show when you do a search for its business name, so is Facebook keeping 2 separate locational datasets? This one of many early failure if they are trying to build a local business product if Facebook lists it as a local location I can checkin but I can’t find the location at a later stage unless it’s in your news feed. You can see on the side menu that its not possible to find or search for places you just have to find them via your iPhone/iTouch or if one of your friends checkins and it shows up in their news feed. The failure to allow places to be easily found via the main interface is very strange as there is limits as to what you can do via your iPhone and most business owners would likely prefer if they make the effort to claim their Facebook place that it would at least show up in internal searches.
Facebook Places Stalks your Friends
Facebook has developed a new tool that allows you to select between mayhem and stalking your friends online, one of the first and only one of my friends who has tested the platform checked in last night. By moving your mouse over the location you view the pop-up window that features a Bing map, a list of friends who have been to that location, the ability to like that business or get directors.
Clicking the local business link brings up far more information than any of their competitors such as FourSquare and brings concern around zero privacy features of Facebook places. I can see who is at a particular location currently, who of my friends has been there and even exactly when my friend checked-in. The problem is as the service grows the ability to understand friends movements is a little creepy this was highlighted in a blog post I did in June Finding Location, Losing Privacy, do you really want the ability for your movements to be profiled? Some of the early responses from twitter show those who understand the value of privacy understand the concept but see it as a problem. “Thinking #facebook places – good concept but not liking the privacy issues. Go original. Foursquare.com All the fun. None of the worry.”
Using Facebook Places
You can see below that the way that Facebook provides a list of nearby locations is fairly useless compared to FourSquare, as it doesn’t show useful icons of what the place is “food,art,drinks,deli,pizza,pharmacy”. To roll out a product that once again fails to match what the competitors having been doing for a while will likely lead the product to failure. Also unlike Foursquare or Gowalla there is no real benefit to checkin, no badges, no discounts, no prizes, no points… its not offering the users a perceived advantage such as Facebook Credits for checking into a business.
Facebook Places allows Tagging
I was alerted to an early privacy issue by @schachin, as the Facebook Places platform allows you to out friends with you via the status tagging feature even if they are not there “With #facebook places checking in is subject to YOUR Privacy settings TAGGING is based on your FRIENDS!“. The Huffington Post also did a detailed write-up on how you can avoid the embarrassment of being tagged by a friend as being somewhere you are not supposed to be and show everyone in an instant. You now have to worry about friends tagging you in photos, status updates and now via Facebook Places and you don’t even need to be there to have your privacy violated. FourSquare got it right when it automatically associates your checkin with existing friends if you both checkin to the same venue, you should have to manually tag them as being with you at the same location.
Share Facebook Checkin
You don’t actually have much of a choice if you want to checkin to a location and not reveal this to all your friends, unlike FourSquare which has a always visible setting on your update to not share this checkin with your friends. This continuing failure to accept users privacy rights seems to be a constant theme with Facebook with its share all and everything mentality, but why don’t look to other services like FourSquare which are trying to build a wall around their users privacy and protect their users if selected. Unlike FourSquare which allows you to checkin and just not tell your friends it seems that Facebook doesn’t allow this option, and really if they are looking to bring in FourSquare and Gowalla users via API, its going to produce some issues and complications for their users who are used to having control of their privacy. Facebook only allows you to share your location or not checkin there is no halfway option which makes most people not inclined to use it.
Looking at the Places checkin screen shown above, the use of the language also implies that you enter into a long-term contract which is a little more worrying, and the language used to advise about the check-in functionality is a little scary “wherever you go”. So think clearly about if you want to be Facebook’s guinea pig for its latest product test, my advice is to sit this feature out.
How to Disable Facebook Places
LifeHacker has posted a good article on how to disable Facebook Places, but you can also do it easily through your privacy settings as shown below, it is important that you consider at least checking the places feature to ensure its set that you just show your friends immediately, then I advised that you can goto your privacy settings and ensure its disabled. An important not that if you are under the age of 18 or have changed your date of birth to make you under 18, you have an increased level of privacy settings enabled automatically that will limit updates to just your friends.
The privacy setting you are looking for to disable Facebook Places updates is hidden under “applications, games and websites”. You will see 5 Facebook privacy settings that you can select to refine your privacy settings:
- What applications you’re using (Tweetdeck/Eventbrite)
- Games and application activity
- Information accessible through your friends (Places)
- Instant personalisation (Facebook connect)
- Public search (Bing/Google)
Once you have selected option 3 highlighted with the red arrow you are shown a pop-up window with the privacy settings. All your Facebook information available is available to any applications, games and websites when friends choose to use them, so its important to limit what information Facebook obviously advises you to share more information to make the experience more social, but that’s not always advised. Consider if you really need to share all the following information with everyone, but you will want to ensure that the “Places I check into” setting is unchecked and then click to save changes.
That’s done you now know more about how Facebook Places works, how it might affect you and how to disable it so you reduce the risks exposed with sharing too much information online, and go back to using FourSquare or Gowalla. Think twice before electing to share your every step and visit even if there is a slight benefit for your social circles and not everyone cares to know what you are doing at every moment of the day!