Aug 19

Are We Ready for the Rapid Transparency of Facebook Places?

online transparencyYesterday, Facebook launched Facebook Places. Not only can you broadcast your location to your Facebook friends, but your friends can tag your location for others to see unless you uncheck this setting.

It’s strange how we lump so many of our contacts in one place. Some of my contacts on Facebook are professional. They are people who I don’t mind knowing most of my business, but I would prefer them to stay out of certain segments of my life like my dating situation. Some of them are my family. They don’t care what goes on in my professional life. Some are old drinking buddies. What’s odd is that I have grouped all of these people in one place, which is Facebook. Why do we do this? Well, it’s kind of hard to turn down friend requests from people you actually know and see regularly.

It’s this lumping of contacts that has me concerned about Facebook Places, primarily the feature that allows your friends to tag where you are. Granted, some of these issues were present with the tagging of photos and I acknowledge this. It just seems a lot easier to tag your friends with a place than in a photo. What do you do when these types of issues get presented to your “lump” of friends?

1.) It’s very unfortunate, but some people cannot come out as homosexual. It’s literally a matter of their physical safety and emotional well being. What happens when someone is outed by getting tagged at a gay club on Facebook? Could it affect their employment or family relationships? While I wish society could just accept different lifestyles, I also acknowledge that privacy isn’t just a a matter of “hiding” things–it can protect us from conversations we might not be ready to have and even physical violence.
2.) Imagine you hate your job. You decide you want to go to a Bootstrap Austin meetup to learn to start your own company. So as to support the group, someone tags your location at this meetup. Your boss sees this and notices there would be no reason you would be there except to leave his company. Although you had planned to leave in six months, you now have to leave tomorrow.
3.) My parents are Catholic. I myself do not consider myself Catholic. If someone checks me into a church that isn’t Catholic and my dad sees it on Facebook, it brings up a conversation I’d just assume not have (again).

I opted out of letting my friends check me in. It’s not that I don’t trust my friends. It’s that they might not know what is going on in my life and the implications of doing so, and I’d rather not think about it. I don’t see enough benefit to allowing others to check me in. So while Facebook Places is not the end of online privacy as we know it, we should think critically about its implications before blindly embracing it. My concern stems that most people who use Facebook have not even heard of Places and may face a rude awakening of sorts.

These are not new issues, but they are becoming increasingly more key to evaluate as social networks push us into becoming more and more public with information that was formerly private. Is this rapid transparency a force of good that will cause people to be more authentic? Is our society ready for this?

  • Tom Myer

    The other problem here is that you can probably also tag someone as being present who is indeed not present. Yes, yes, I know that you can do that with photos, but this is worse.

    I resent it when people tag me in photos, period, but when they tag me in a picture that they just want me to go look at for some reason, that’s annoying.

    But if you tag me as being in a place when I’m not there, well….

  • Kate Voth

    Photos are a different animal all together. If someone tags you in a photo that you’re not featured in, it’s pretty obvious you weren’t there (at least not in that picture). Photos aren’t necessarily time and place specifiic either, so in many cases it can be difficult to “prove” someone was playing hookie or visiting this club or that church.

    When tagging someone in a place, there’s no photo evidence, so it’s really your word against someone’s tag. Who is your employer/parent/friend to believe in such a situation?

  • Michelle

    @Tom Yikes. Better not make any of your friends mad. I didn’t know this and I’m sure most people don’t either.

  • Kyle Johnson

    A couple tangents on some points you made here:

    * Tagging *yourself* as being someplace your not might come in incredibly handy when you need an alibi for something. You raised some concerns about geostalking, here and in another post, but I’m guessing we should also expect to see the rise of “geolying” as geotagging gains wider adoption. The one will go hand in hand with the other, I expect. Might not be a bad way to handle a geostalker, in fact: Post that you’re enjoying a burger at the Circleville Store and then head down to Gruene Hall :)

    * Re: lumping your entire ecosystem of social contacts in the same bucket, as currently happens via facebook: The fact that this makes FB an incredibly boring place to hang out is not the lease annoying side effect. Polite, socially adept FB users understand their friends have network contacts who may be bosses, co-workers, in-laws, church members. Accordingly, everyone always censors for the lowest common denominator of accessibility.

    Contrast to usenet in college, where I could have truly wacky, hilarious, and at times downright profane conversations with a lot of the same people I now talk to on FB. The difference was, we were all hiding behind crazy handles. Of course, I knew what my friends’ handles were. (And, over time, after I came to trust certain other anonymous posters as having an comparably warped sense of humor, they became RL friends, too) Now, I still talk to the same people, but all we say to each other is “Aw…Cute Kid!”

    You may have explored this topic before — after all, this is your area of expertise, but the one thing that’s been bugging me about FB lately is that it seems like it’s become such a depressing engine of conformity.

  • Kyle Johnson

    err, last sentence paragraph 2 should be “lowest common denominator of *acceptability*”

    Of course, everyone should always publish for the LCD of accessibility…..

  • Michelle

    @Kyle You bring up a really good point. It’s also hard to avoid. If you know someone, you kind of feel like a jerk for not friending them. But you don’t want to offend the sensibilities of people you’ve friended.

    It’s like going to see Gogol Bordello at ACL vs at Emo’s. At Emo’s, everyone there is a fan, so you can get rowdy. At ACL, most of the people are seeing them for the first time. It’s a big hodge podge of people not really united in anything.