The Dark Side of Facebook Places? Nobody Is Making You Use It.

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People will be bored of what you are doing. By knowing more about you they may like you less. You are advertising when your house is empty to rob. And you are making it easy for paeodophiles to track you down. These are the charges leveled against Facebook Places in a piece in this weekend’s Sunday Times (no article link I’m afraid – behind the paywall!).

Of course, these are all dangers and it would be foolish not to agree. But Facebook Places is not as threatening as this piece might lead you to believe. Mainly because on Facebook, like in the rest of your life, you only actually share what you choose to.

Facebook Places is doing many things to the way people use Facebook. But it is not sharing information about you unless you choose to. Facebook is not automatically checking you in to venues without your say so when you arrive somewhere. If you over share or share information dangerously then you will only have yourself to blame. That or your choice of friends (as they can check you in somewhere too!).

The problem with this analysis is that many people using Facebook don’t always realise quite how much they are sharing for two reasons:

  1. The privacy filters on Facebook can be complex – it is well known that Facebook has complicated privacy settings, at one point giving users 170 different options to control who sees what on their profile. This is confusing and can be difficult for people to get on top of. Also, Facebook doesn’t let you choose who sees an update (but rather who doesn’t see it). From a user experience perspective, this assumes that you want to share with more people (and exclude a small number) rather than sharing with small groups of people (and excluding the mass). Facebook is structurally designed to share and to encourage you to do so. This is obvious, it is one reason it is successful.
  2. People do not always realise how much they are sharing – Facebook, for many people, feels like a safe, very personal space. You are here with your friends, hearing about what they are doing, organising events with them and seeing and sharing photos of places you have been and things you have done. When you are using Facebook you do not think of the 500 million users the social network has. You think of the friends you have on it – probably nearer 150 people than 500 million. Facebook is a classic social network – it is a collection of networks of people who are connected because they know each other. And when you are in one of these networks you may not always remember that you are also part of a much, much larger one.

Facebook Places is not scary, but it yet again highlights the fact that, as users of Facebook and of social media, we are all still learning. We are getting used to what we want to share and how we want to share it. Challenges and opportunities we have not had before. Some people will want to share a lot of things with other people (whether they know them or not). Some will not. The challenge is that people now need to think about exactly what they want to share and with whom, and then make sure this is how they act and how they setup their use of social networks to support this.

I’m probably in the not sharing category. At least for Facebook Places. Mainly because I really don’t go to too many interesting places and because I don’t want to flood my friends’ walls with many more status updates. I am, however, an avid user of Foursquare; even on holiday. Different tools, and different groups of friends for different reasons.

Image by Gilderic via Flickr

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