Facebook users in Australia can share their location with friends from today after the social networking website launched its Places feature.
Keen to avoid another privacy backlash, Facebook stressed the service would be opt-in and users would have to check in to venues before their location was revealed on their page. The default privacy setting would be to share with “friends only” and users can even restrict location sharing to specific friends or groups of friends.
The Australian launch follows recent launches in the US, Canada and Japan.
The feature will be gradually rolled out on Facebook’s servers from today and users can access it from the Facebook iPhone application or, for users of other smartphones that support HTML5, from touch.facebook.com.
When users open up Places they are provided with a list of venues – restaurants, bars, businesses, shopping centres, etc – near them, which is ranked according to distance and other factors. “If some of your friends hang out at the Hog’s Breath Cafe then perhaps that’s the reaason why it’s at the top of the list,” said Facebook Places product manager Michael Sharon.
When users check in somewhere they can see recent checkins from friends and their comments.
Facebook said Places would enable “serendipitous meetings” between friends who are near each other. Users get notifications if friends check in somewhere close to them.
Friends who are out together can also check each other in to locations, but Facebook stressed that users could only tag people who are on their friends list and people who don’t want friends to tag them can turn the feature off in the privacy settings. Users are always notified when tagged by someone and can always remove any tag.
“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about a number of safeguards that we could add as well as the right defaults that people should have,” said Sharon.
Places is highly similar to location-based apps like Foursquare and Gowalla, both of which have signed up as partners with Facebook to use the Places API. But Sharon said the feature wouldn’t mean the death of Foursquare.
“Foursquare is really based on exploring a city … they focus on tips and they focus on the game-like elements of the service … [such as] rewards and achievements,” said Sharon.
“The big differentiator for us is that this is all about sharing where you are with your friends, not just broadcasting it to the world.”