Checking in, location reporting, geo-status updating - call it what you like, but sharing your location with the world has become one of the most popular movements to hit social networking in recent times. Facebook is the latest application to join the party, allowing users to include their location with their status updates. "Places," as it is called, is nothing new (services like Foursquare have been allowing users to advertise where they are for quite some time now), but it does raise some interesting privacy concerns. Since users share everything about their identity and personal lives with Facebook, just how far could Places plunge us into an Orwellian dystopia where "Big Mark is always watching?"
Even the best employees call out of work for a special occasion every now and then, especially when your friend has box seats to the big game (insert fishing excursion, sold out concert, etc) and you're invited. Of course, you can't tell your boss that you won't make it in for the day because you're going to watch Eddie Van Halen shred out all afternoon, so you say you're sick and need a day or two off.
A few years ago, this standard excuse would have worked just fine, but now that you've listed your employer with the all-seeing Facebook, you might encounter some serious problems. As you cheer your lungs out and update your profile during work hours with your location, your boss might get an alert that you're not at the doctor's office, but third row at Madison Square Garden. Get ready for a pink slip and a box of your stuff waiting on your desk on Monday.
Since Facebook knows your age, demographic, and now your location, it wouldn't be difficult for the police to monitor your activities and come looking for you if the system generates an alert. Let's say you've told Facebook you're a college kid, a member of a rowdy fraternity, and your location confirms that you've been at a bar all night with a group of buddies (also using Facebook). When the squad cars come rolling by for a "random check-up," don't be surprised if you catch them glancing at pictures printed from your profile and scanning the floor for you and your friends.
ZDNet reports that the main focus of Facebook's geo-targetted Places capability will be for businesses to offer users coupons and advertisements. With over 500 million users on Facebook, there aren't many bright business minds in world that won't want to tap into such a vast and responsive market. Soon, it could be hard to take a relaxing stroll through the town park without your phone being hit with invitations from every bar and restaurant in a 5 mile radius. Romantic dinners with your lover at one restaurant might be interrupted by coupons to the six other high-class restaurants on that block.
It started with the Patriot Act and it could continue with the social web. Imagine that you are a political activist who frequently attends peace rallies. perhaps you even make it a point to give speeches and recruit support for your causes. Be careful not to extend your reach too far or push too hard to make a difference, as Facebook knows your favorite books, movies, causes, educational background, and the location of all the rallies you attend. If you are profiled as having too much influence, you might wake up to suits rooting through your trash, bugging your phone lines, or following you around town in unmarked vans.
No matter how close of a relationship you have, every partner needs some alone time to unwind and reconnect with themselves. Maybe your new boyfriend wants you to go to the sports bar with his coworkers, or your girlfriend really wants to see the latest chick flick with you, but you come up with a clever excuse to spend time with your friends instead. With geo-targetting enabled on your profile, it won't be very hard for your lover to figure out the "Ms. Kittie's Gentleman's Club" isn't exactly dinner with your mother.
It's no secret that most parents worry themselves sick when their kids go off to college for the first time. The allure of parties and the experimental culture of campus life causes concerned moms and dads to wish they could still see what their kids were doing all those miles away. In a dystopian world, young men and women would never be out of their parents reach. Facebook locational services can alert parents every time their sons and daughters are not at their classes, partying at a rave, or staying out all night at the Frat house.
College football just got underway, causing fans across America to break out their nachos and beer helmets for another fun-filled season of cheering for the home school. Unfortunately, not even star athletes are free from the scrutiny that Facebook's location reporting can cause. Coaches are typically very strict about what their players are to eat, and how they are to behave in their time off the field. In comes McDonalds, who AdAge reports is one of the first advertisers to sign up for Facebook's Places service.
Since Facebook knows what school you attend and what team you play for (based on your activities information and the comments teammates leave on your wall), your coach could soon be alerted whenever you check into a McDonalds, or spend a night before practice drinking at the local tavern. Thinking about renting ATVs for a fun few days in the woods? Think again - injuries cannot be tolerated from team members, and your coach might just put the kibosh on your adventurous weekend plans.
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