One place you should not visit

Approximately one year ago Facebook launched Places, a location based service allowing users to alert Facebook connections of their location, the service has 750 million potential users, more than any other geolocation network, but the nature of Facebook’s network, and the way users share on the platform make it unpalatable for individuals and unethical for reporters. Facebook Places allows users with an iPhone, Android, Blackberry, or other mobile device to “check in” to existing locations or create new locations to facilitate connecting with “friends.” Facebook also allows users to “check in” friends to a location by default, a setting which can only be changed through Facebook’s complicated privacy settings.

An early guide to the service by Mashable outlines Place’s use for businesses. They write that once a place exists, it can become a “place page” managed by the business owner. This is one of the primary uses for the application according to Facebook, on their page introducing the product Facebook lists three purposes, “share where you are,” “connect with friends nearby,” and “new: find local deals.” Under the first heading, “share where you are” Facebook lists potential uses, two of which involve the “place page.” First, a user’s “check in” appears on the feed of the “place page” and it also appears in a second section entitled “here now” of people currently in a location.

By default, a “check in” is only visible to connections and on a place page, and connections can check a user into a place, these two factors make the service ineffective and unethical for reporters. When a user appears at a place, that information, if true, may only be intended for a small group of people, however on a place page that information finds a wider audience and the primary user might not be aware of this larger diffusion of private information. Further, the person might not currently, or ever have been in the location due to the default setting allowing permitting “friends” to  “check in” on a user’s behalf.

When someone “checks in” they have no expectation that that information will be shared with reporters to be used either as a means for further contact or as part of a story (100 people checked into the location where there was a fire). Facebook is not used by many for public sharing and private (or semi-private) information should not be used by reporters.

Reporters should not be taking advantage of private individuals inability to maintain fluency in Facebook’s ever changing privacy settings and new applications which are often forced onto users without their knowledge or consent. Facebook’s semi-closed complicated network is the reason why this site is not useful for reporters, someone “checks in” to a location for a discount, but is simultaneity being “checked in” elsewhere by a friend (think checking a friend in at a strip club as a joke). Further users cannot set granular controls for each “check in” (who can see it, how long to remain in a place, accept or reject a friend’s “check in”). Without these features and an easily navigable database of all “check in” locations the site has no future as a tool for journalists.


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  • Anisha says: