Have you been invited to use Foursquare or Gowalla? Or has one of your friends checked you into a restaurant or a club using Facebook Places? Congratulations, you’re now on the new frontier of social media: location.
Location-based services are sites available through mobile devices that use your exact geographical location to connect you to friends and businesses.
So now you have to decide: Do I need everyone to know where I am?
Okay. Maybe you aren’t letting “everyone” know where you are. Many services limit your information to your friends. But when you share your information with a network, you’re trusting everyone on that network to protect your privacy. So there’s always the potential when using location-based social media that someone you don’t want to see could find your exact location.
Background on Location Services
Google Latitude, which allows you to broadcast your location twenty-four hours a day using GPS (global positioning system) technology, has been around for more than a year. And once it got over some initial privacy concerns, it basically became another one of Google’s innovative yet obscure services that not too many people use.
To date, only 4% of Americans have tried one a location-based service, and only 1% use one on a weekly basis, according to Gartner. People are not showing much interest in leaving digital breadcrumbs wherever they go.
So why do you have to decide now if you’re ready to start sharing your location?
First of all, more and more people are getting GPS -enabled smartphones. This makes cool apps like our free Anti-Theft for Mobile possible, and it makes it easy to broadcast your location. And more importantly, Facebook is getting into the location game.
How Will Facebook Places Change Your Life?
Facebook Places is now live in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy and Australia and has already sparked so much interest in location-based social networking that its competitor Foursquare just passed the 4,000,000 registration mark, which means it’s only 546,000,000 users behind Facebook.
With a user base of more than half a billion active users around the globe, Facebook intends to push location networking into the mainstream. It also has added another level to these types of services by allowing users to check their friends into locations. And of course, this could allow for some mischief.
The Potential for Mischief
Using Places, your Facebook friends could check you into places you shouldn’t be like a bar during your lunch hour. That could be a problem with your boss.
But this potential for mischief is inherent in Facebook. Your friends can already lie about you in status updates. Even worse, any of your friends could also easily tag your name in an embarrassing photo you may or may not be in.
(To prevent anyone on Facebook seeing you tagged in friends’ photos and videos you may not approve of, go to “Privacy Settings”> “Customize Settings”> “Photos and videos I’m tagged in”> “Customize”> “Only Me”)
The best way to minimize risk whenever you’re on Facebook for any reason is to keep your friends list limited to the people you really trust. (If you need a fan club I’d suggest a Facebook fan page. That way you can broadcast Twitter-style without having to worry about sharing personal information and media with strangers.)
Get Your Settings Right
Facebook Places is perfect for two types of Facebook users: Those who have no fear about sharing the most intimate details of their lives and those who have mastered the privacy settings.
No matter who you are, Places should force you to take a good look at who is on your Facebook friends list. Facebook Places is at its safest when you share your location with the people you really trust. And if you don’t know and trust everyone you’re connected with, you need to control exactly who has access to your information every time you post.
Here’s some good advice from a Facebook representative about how to use Places: