Possibly feeling out of the loop when it comes to GPS locating features like the one you’ll find in the 2 million-member-social-networking site, Foursquare, Facebook has officially released their version of the service, called Places. The feature is available to Facebook users in the U.S., and just like Foursquare, Places allows users to post their exact location based on their cell phone’s GPS.
Places works like this:
If they haven’t already, users can download the Facebook app on their cell phone. If they wish to announce their location to their friends, all they have to do is tap on the “Places” icon and then tap the “check in” button. This triggers the GPS to pull up a handful of nearby locations (restaurants, stores, etc) according to the location of the user. From there the user can select the place that best matches their exact location (most likely it is their exact location). This announcement is then posted on their Facebook News Feed as well as the Recent Activity list that belongs to that place (restaurant, store, etc).
Facebook went on to announce their “privacy concerns” relating to the new feature, saying that users can opt out of letting just anyone see their location. This means that they can limit visibility to only their friends, or to only select friends. Now, I think I make a valid point when I say that the younger Facebook users—the 13 and 14-year-olds, and the even younger ones who lie about their age—are much more susceptible to NOT tweaking the privacy settings on Places. And if past events are any indication, Facebook will most likely encourage users to take full advantage of Place’s “default settings”.
I think Internet-safety and education expert Michael Dermody would agree. “Kids’ don’t always think things through. Kids also love new widgets and gizmos and studies show that kids will add new features to their Facebook page without even knowing what they do”, said Dermody in a blog he wrote prior to the launch of Places. “The “choice” about whether or not to use this service doesn’t make it any safer. Kids’ don’t always make the best choices.”
But more importantly, we have to stop and realize the important concerns that can result from this application. Privacy settings aside, there’s no doubt in my mind that Places will only make it easier for stalkers, cyberbullies, and those intending our children harm, to track our children down. I mean, if status updates and profile information is already enough for these people to find our kids, how is this application going to make that any less of a problem? The answer is: It’s not. It’s almost guaranteed that this will only make things worse. And for what? A good review for a restaurant? The ability for someone’s “friends” to know exactly where they are at all times? To me it’s just not worth it. It’s not worth the safety risk that our children are facing more and more with these huge gaping privacy holes that they can fall into at the touch of a button.
Parents, I strongly advise you to talk to your kids. I know that being involved in your child’s Facebook life as it is can be a vigorous and stressful task, but if your older ones “just have to” use Places, talk to them about the privacy settings. Make sure that they’re only letting the friends they know in real life know their location. And for your younger kids, if they’re on Facebook, talk to them about the consequences that can come from using pinpoint-locator services like Places, and convince them that these services just aren’t meant for kids.