New York Times reports that Facebook will launch a couple of location sharing features at their annual conference in April. The features, as reported, will allow users to share their location information along or within their status updates. The users will of course have the chance to opt-out of it if they want. Developers will also be able to use the location information through API to create applications using that data.
It sounds like a great idea automatically displaying to your friends you are at the Starbucks down the street! Or is it really? Small social networking tools like FourSquare and Gowalla currently let users do that but a huge drawback of telling somebody where you are is also telling them where you are not! To better understand this, let’s check out a great small app called PleaseRobMe.com. The app scans Twitter and FourSquare and makes a list of people who are not home. How does the app know I am not home? Simple, if you just tweeted that you are in Orlando and your home town is New York. PleaseRobMe does a very good job of highlighting how sharing your location on social networks can make you vulnerable to stalkers, burglars and everybody else with a negative intention.
Facebook is many times larger than Twitter or FourSquare so the vulnerability would be many times more. Even if 10% of people opt-in to share their location, that means 40 Million people would open themselves to burglars, stalkers and other possible vulnerabilities. It is true that unlike Twitter or FourSqaure your location will only be displayed to your Facebook friends, however, with number of friends going up to thousands for some people, you can never be sure who is actually your friend. Of course, sharing location can have a very positive use as well. Let’s say you are trapped somewhere and managed to damage your cell phone’s mic, you can just update your status and your friends would know where you are.
Just like any other innovation, location-sharing can be used for both positive and negative things but when we talk about a significant number of users being impacted (say 400 Million), Facebook would have to be very very careful.