Facebook's Places can tell where you are

Facebook's Places can tell where you are

PALO ALTO, California: Facebook introduced a long-anticipated service called Places on Wednesday.

Facebook’s Places borrows heavily from location-based social networks like Foursquare and Gowalla, which allow users to check in at places and broadcast their location to friends.

Using Places on hand-held devices like the iPhone and other smartphones, users will be able to check in, for example, at a restaurant, bar or museum, alerting their friends on Facebook of their presence.

They will then be able to see, using the service, any friends that are nearby, as well as other people who have checked in at the same location and have agreed to have their location broadcast widely.

Users will also be able to tag friends who are with them, and the service will suggest other nearby locations that users may be interested in. Check-ins will be broadcast in status updates that will appear in a variety of places, including the pages of a user’s friends and the Places page for that location.

“This is not a service to broadcast your location at all times, but rather one to share where you are, who you are with, when you want to,” said Michael Sharon, product manager for Places. “It lets you find friends that are nearby and help you discover nearby places.”

People will be able to see Places pages on the Web and who has checked in. But for now, the ability to check in at a particular location will be available only on mobile phones.

Sharon said that Places was meant to get the 500 million existing users of Facebook to increase their usage of the social networking service.

Facebook’s initiative heightens its competition with Google as they battle to emerge as the dominant Internet hub. With that comes more advertising dollars. Facebook’s long-term goal with Places appears to be to capture the largely untapped advertising opportunity that local and small businesses offer.

But Facebook will have to tread carefully regarding privacy concerns of its users. Earlier this year, the company faced harsh scrutiny over revisions to its platform and privacy policy that encouraged members to make personal details more broadly accessible on the Internet.

Sharon said that Places would have a series of privacy controls intended to give users the power to decide with whom they would share check-ins. Users will, for instance, be able to remove themselves after they are tagged. There will also be special privacy controls to protect minors, he added.

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