Facebook Introduces New Privacy Norms Around Location With Tagging

One of the thorniest issues Facebook is confronting with the launch of its long-awaited location features has been privacy. After concerns erupted earlier this spring that the company was being too cavalier with privacy, Facebook’s engineers and product managers have been careful to announce a thorough set of controls with its new location-sharing service.

With the new product, Facebook is attempting to expand the existing paradigm of “check-ins” with a new feature that will let users tag friends at places.

Users will not only be able to temporarily share their whereabouts, as they do on other popular apps like Foursquare and Gowalla, they’ll also be able to check their friends into places. That’s a fundamentally different option than what other location-based services have allowed in the past. In other apps, users have had to explicitly share their own location.

Naturally, Facebook has established a set of privacy controls to complement the new features. When users share their location, the default setting is to their friends only. Users can also narrow the number of friends they share their whereabouts to as few as they want.

When users tag other friends in their status updates, those friends will have to select an option called “Allow” before their location is shared with others. If they click an option called “Not Now,” then they could be mentioned in a friend’s status update, but it won’t change their location information. There’s also an option to turn off letting friends check you in.

When users check into a place, other people at the place may be able to see that they’re there for a short time. Third-party applications may also access location information, but they have to request permission for it first. Users can also turn off location-sharing with third-party developers.

The new controls haven’t thwarted criticism of the company’s approach to privacy, though.

The American Civil Liberties Union said Facebook had “failed to build in some other important privacy safeguards.” It said users had no option to turn off the “Here Now” feature, which shares their location with others at the same place, when they check-in. It also said offering a “Not Now,” but not a “No” button to turn off location-tagging by friends stopped short of giving users genuine control.

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