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Netiquette of using Facebook Places

Even if you never use Facebook's geo-tagging feature, be aware: thanks to a new Facebook feature, your "friends'' can now post a map of where you are without your permission.

Not comfortable with having the world know where you are at a given moment? Don't panic. A change of privacy settings can block geo-tagging.

But first, you need to know how it works. The newly released feature, called Facebook Places, uses your cellphone's GPS to let you ``check in'' to a nearby establishment and broadcast where you are to your Facebook connections. (In order to ``check in,'' the person doing the tagging must be using Facebook on a cellphone, but anyone can see the information.)

For example, at work I can ``check in'' to The Miami Herald. My profile then says I'm at The Herald, and it shows a map and description of the company, along with other friends who have been here.

Your friends can also do this on your behalf. Facebook Places lets you ``Tag Friends With You'' -- so I can go in and mark off a ton of co-workers (even ones who are not actually in the building), and it shows up on all their profiles as being here.

But ... it's a big netiquette ``no'' to assume others want their location posted to Facebook (or any other social networking site.) If you're out with friends and want to tag them, you need to first ask if no one minds. Even though Facebook's new feature can be turned off, you can't assume everyone is savvy enough to have done that.

If you are queasy about having your whereabouts telegraphed, it's easy to block people from tagging you.

In Facebook, click Account on the far right, and go to Privacy Settings. In the area under Sharing on Facebook, click the link at the bottom of the list that says Customize Settings. There you can see settings related to Facebook Places, including disabling friends from checking in on your behalf.

If your tweens or teens use Facebook, be aware that they can now use their phone to broadcast exactly when and where they are, which can be dangerous if they don't use privacy settings. There's even a way to create a ``check in'' for your home -- something I strongly discourage, no matter what your age.

Facebook's terms of use say no one under 13 should use the site. But I've spoken to several parents with children much younger than 13 on Facebook, and the children simply lie about their age in the profile. Parents should include Facebook Places in conversations about online safety and sharing information with strangers.

Despite these warnings, the service has some fun benefits. The instant I walk in, I can quickly let my friends know of a great band playing at a restaurant I'm at, or a store with a sale going on.

If this location feature sounds familiar, that's because it's not new. Third-party applications like Foursquare and Gowalla have been posting this type of information on Facebook for awhile now -- but now that it's a feature built into the Facebook application and mobile website, expect people to use this more frequently.

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Ugghhh, yet something else that I don't care about where people are on my FB page when I read my newsfeed. 9 times out of 10 it's places like "so and so just checked into subway" or whatever. Every now and then I see a really cool place, then only do I envy that I am not there as well. I think this is just one step closer to having GPS devices implanted in our bodies at birth....

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