Is anyone surprised that Facebook's newest feature, Places, has privacy advocates on the warpath again? Or that the American Civil Liberties Union complained about it the very day it debuted? I doubt it.
In fact, Facebook has riled privacy advocates so often, the real news event would be the release of a new Facebook feature that didn't present privacy issues. But on the off chance that someone is just plugging back in after a self-imposed technology fast, here's a quick review: Places uses the geo-location technology in mobile devices to allow Facebook users to share their location (or "check in") and to tag any friends who are with them at that location. Startups like Foursquare and Gowalla offer similar functionality, so it's not surprising that Facebook would want to go in this direction.
But the ACLU and other consumer advocates are concerned because there is no easy way to opt out of the service. According to the ACLU of Northern California:
When it comes to opting out of [allowing friends to check you in], you are only given a "not now" option (aka ask me again later). "No" isn't one of the easy options...And if you use Places yourself, you aren't even given a "not now;" you're just told that friends are able to check-in for you and left to discover for yourself that you can change this setting.
To Facebook's credit, the company has been quick to respond to the ACLU's concerns. The New York Times quoted a statement from Facebook's policy communications director, Barry Schnitt, who said:
No one can be checked in to a location without their explicit permission. Many third parties have applauded our controls, indicating that people have more protections using Facebook Places than other widely used location services available today.
Even reaction from Times readers is varied. One said, "Facebook Places makes it really easy for stalkers... to find you. Great." From the other end of the spectrum, though, came this one:
When will the great analysts of today finally get it? We, the 20 somethings of today, are not that concerned about privacy. Facebook has become a way of life.