Commentary

Time To Lose That Location Feature, Facebook

With the heat on Facebook from Congress and advocacy groups over the privacy implications of its Open Graph initiative, it seems like a strange time for the social network to extend its reach into the physical world via a new location-based service. Not only would Facebook be able to track everywhere you travel online, but everywhere you turn up in the real world as well.

As soon as later this month, Facebook will begin allowing users to share their location via status updates, according to a recent Ad Age report. McDonald's is said to be among the first marketers to use the feature to allow people to, in effect, "check in" when they're at one of the chain's restaurants. Given Facebook's 500 million strong audience, the location functionality would obviously be a dream for retailers and other brick-and-mortar businesses looking to boost foot traffic.

Commenting in AdAge, Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer predicts it will be the biggest thing to thing for local businesses since paid search. He also noted that it would turbocharge use of Facebook's mobile app, which already has 100 million users. "Once people start using the mobile app to broadcast their whereabouts as well, it will become even more indispensable, and even more frequently used," he wrote. "Watch those statistics skyrocket, and watch Facebook start selling ad opportunities to reach people within the app--which they have not done yet."

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Presumably, location-based updates would be offered to Facebook's mobile app users on an opt-in basis. In updating its privacy policy last November, the company said that if it were to offer a location-based service, "we will present you with an opt-in choice of whether you want to participate."

That approach could help deflect some of the controversy that's erupted around Open Graph, which critics argue should have been launched on an opt-in basis rather than added by default, especially the instant personalization program. Even so, you have to wonder if Facebook might not be considering delaying the rollout of the location feature while Open Graph is still under heightened scrutiny in Washington.

It was already expected Facebook would announce the location service at its f8 conference last month, but it never came. At least one privacy expert is cautioning the company to tread carefully with any new geolocation offering. On his Twitter account this month, Jules Polonetsky, director of the think tank Future of Privacy Forum, warned Facebook "must get privacy right on this," and advised the company should "announce, explain to users, then proceed with permission," in reference to a new location feature.

But Facebook has a history of plunging ahead with new programs to broaden content sharing and dealing with privacy concerns after. Will it take a different path this time?

7 comments about "Time To Lose That Location Feature, Facebook".
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  1. Michael Quintos from Digital Ad Agency, May 11, 2010 at 7:19 p.m.

    If a user doesn't like where FB is headed to make money ~ the user can stop using Facebook.

  2. Mark Mayhew from Plancasting.com, May 11, 2010 at 8:02 p.m.

    yes, with over 100,000 installs in 3 weeks, Facebook's Open Graph is a dismal failure ;)

  3. Ed Borasky, May 11, 2010 at 8:10 p.m.

    I am planning to leave Facebook because I believe their management is incompetent. http://meb.tw/96R9pQ

  4. Adam Day, May 11, 2010 at 10:53 p.m.

    I'm sorry am i missing something here. Check-ins do not in and of themselves increase retail in-store foot traffic. A check-in feature is good for analyzing consumer behavior in response to advertising and promotion but they do not drive traffic. Location based apps allow the ability to serve up advertising that is relevant to a location or make a special offer, however, the offer can potentially cannibalize existing user base revenue. www.retailpromotions.com

  5. Anne Rose from Catalogs.com, May 12, 2010 at 7:57 a.m.

    It would be interesting to put the Facebook check-in feature next to FourSquare, which I already have set to post updates to my Facebook profile. I'm still in the "who cares" phase ... the app hasn't impressed me yet, and the bugs are many ...

  6. Matt Merriam from Merriam Associates, May 12, 2010 at 9:28 a.m.

    Facebook has built such an organically cohesive community that it would appear Facebook management actually has little control over it's users, or any credibility to provide them direction. Users can "stop using Facebook," and that's the worst case scenario. Especially if they simply ratchet down privacy and only use it very rarely and selectively. If Facebook does implode as a digital playground to become a glorified address book utility, the user experience becomes a massive seething swamp of spammers and predatory apps -- and all revenue prospects dies. On the path they're on, all Advertisers look like predators ... they have some problems.

  7. Dario Civinelli from 435 Digital, May 12, 2010 at 11:45 a.m.

    If you can get people to feel comfortable about sharing their check-ins or physical location, you're on the verge of Minority Report's retinal ad serving, or, less creepily, Peter Morville's "Ambient Findability." If a network can analyze traffic in a given area and then dynamically serve ads on a billboard based on those users' collective history, fughettaboutit.

    We, as marketers, need to figure out how to engender trust in such technology. Call it a mobile cookie; and we all know how suspicious folks are of browser cookies, even still today.

    Open Graph may have been heavy-handed. And while Facebook states location-based ads will be presented with an opt-in choice, the potential revenue from said ads will force FB to find a tasteful way to make the opt-in automatic. Either that or Google Latitude will buy Foursquare and MyTown and make it happen. (See this article: http://techcrunch.com/2010/05/06/google-latitude-users-check-in/)

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