Yesterday, 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?