Will we lose our privacy to find our friends?

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For years we’ve been sharing with Facebook (and the rest of cyberspace) who, what, when and how, but the time has now come to say where.

Facebook’s newest service, ‘Places’, is the core offering of sites such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Not one to be outdone, Facebook has launched its own take on (as they’re calling it in the biz) ‘location-based functionality’.

Most of us have already posted valuable information, including our age, sex, email address and goodness knows what else. Now we can offer up our location at any given time. By sharing our locations with one another, via a mass social networking site like Facebook, we’re as good as inviting burglars into our home by advertising the fact that we’re out.

Facebook claims this feature isn’t about sharing your location with the world, but about finding places and sharing them with your friends. However, your ‘check-ins’ will appear by default on your profile, in the news feed and in the activity stream for that place. More alarmingly, your friends can, by default, check you in without your approval or permission.

Despite being told we can take control by managing our privacy settings, there will be hundreds – if not thousands – of people who will absent-mindedly leave their settings on, allowing them to be located at any given time.

At face value, this seems to be yet another way for Facebook to cash in on our data – a money making opportunity that leaves us exposed to hungry marketers. On the flip side, Facebook is probably the world’s biggest database and, despite the security concerns, ‘Places’ will support its strategy of adding tools that continue to make money from its 500 million-strong user base.

Only time will tell whether this will become merely a fun feature or serve as a mechanism for privacy violation.