Earlier this evening, Facebook formally announced its geolocation component, Facebook Places, and it has already sparked concerns from a major privacy advocate.
The ACLU of Northern California has issued its preliminary response to the features and is taking issue with the granularity and visibility of some of the new location-based user controls.
Tagging, a feature that has made Facebook Photos such a success, is a key part of Facebook Places. Just as you can tag friends in photos you find or upload, you will also be able to tag individuals when you check in at a new location.
But while Facebook makes it easy for users to allow their friends to check them in, the ACLU says that opting out of that feature is more difficult. For example, the feature lets users select a “not now” option when friends attempt to check them in, but not a “never” option to prevent friends from attempting to do so in the future. Further, if you’re already a Places user, friends can just check you in automatically.
The ACLU also takes issue with the “Here Now” feature, which displays users that have recently checked in at a given Place. The problem, according to the ACLU, is that this list is accessible to anyone else who is checked-in to the same place. The ACLU has already put together a resource page dedicated to helping users lock down more of their information.
It will likely take a few days of real world Facebook Places use to digest all of the privacy implications, but initially it seems that the biggest problem may not be with controlling what information an individual shares but what information others can share about them. Further, as the service becomes available and third-party apps start to work with the APIs, we’ll get a better idea of what this all really means.
Right now, the only thing that seems really clear is that no matter how much Facebook may want to skirt the privacy issues it faced this spring, the company likely to face some serious questions from its users with this new product. After all, the potential for a location-based social graph is enormous, but so too are the real-world opportunities for privacy breaches.
What are you early thoughts on Facebook Places and privacy? Do you feel like your personal information will be under your control? Let us know!