Facebook has announced its first move into the location-based services space with the launch of Places, an application which enables users to share their location and who they are with in real time from mobile devices. Initially it will only be available to users in the US, although it will be rolled-out to other markets “soon.” The service is supported by an iOS application, and is available for users of other non-Apple mobile devices with HTML5 and geolocation support – apps for other device platforms have also been promised. The company says that “with Places, you are in control of what you share and the people you share it”, with location information only shared with friends unless an “everyone” option is selected in the “master privacy control”; users will also be given options to control whether friends can “tag” them as being in a certain place. The company also said that users may want to share location data with “third-party applications that build interesting experiences around location, such as travel planning”, although again this is on an opt-in basis.
Facebook Places will undoubtedly prove something of a challenge to other location-based social networking services, such as Foursquare. While Foursquare recently said it had 2.6 million users, Facebook has 150 million mobile customers (and over 500 million total customers), and the ability to use location-based services without the need to create another user account and friends list with a different service provider may be a major selling point. Facebook’s large installed user base may also prove appealing to third-party application developers looking to create location-aware services, which will give it another major selling point when compared to dedicated, but smaller, mobile location services. Where Facebook does stand to fall down is privacy: a Strategy Analytics analyst told Light Reading Mobile that “if history is an indication of anything, as it often is, Facebook tends to err on the side of forgoing privacy rather than protecting it initially – until there’s an outcry.” The important issue for the company will be the provision of clear and understandable tools for the sharing of location data, in order to provide users with the confidence that use of the information is in their control.