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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Facebook GeoLocation -- Part 2

Apparently I wasn't the only one bashing Facebook's new geolocation service: "Facebook Places."  A recent article on CNN reflected a great deal of less than amicable feedback Facebook has been receiving about the service.  You can read that article here. Facebook's response was to call their critics (like me) idiots and claim that the criticism comes form a lack of understanding about how the service works.  They even had a press release explaining, to morons like myself, the finer details about how the service functions.  Thanks Facebook guys but, I'm not stupid, I know how the service works, and it's still a really bad idea for kids.

Facebook's defense of their new geolocation service is the same old defense they use whenever they add a new feature that is unpopular with the general public...."you don't have to use it."  Their explanation was that Facebook Places only reports a user's location if that user "check's in" by clicking a link on their page.  They went on to say that if parents are concerned about the feature they should tell their children not to use it.  Brilliant.  That will work.  Parents have been concerned for years about their children drinking and doing drugs...and for years they have been "telling their kids not to use it."  How well has that worked?

If you put a gadget on Facebook, kids are going to use it.  As I said in my last post about this topic, studies show that teenagers are drawn to and will use gadgets and widgets on sites like Facebook and MySpace, even if they aren't sure what they do.  The more gadgets the better.  A parent's request for a child not to use a feature isn't the solution.

What is the solution?  I would like to think that limiting the Facebook Places feature to adult accounts would solve this problem, but it wouldn't.  Kids will lie about their age to get onto Facebook as they have for years.  I would also hope that limiting the the service to Facebook mobile would solve it but kids with smartphones would still use it.

So what does a concerned parent do? As long as there are irresponsible companies like Facebook making dangerous toys for your kids, the only thing you can do is talk to them.  Explain why these features are a bad idea.  Explain the risks involved.  Set expectations and have consequences.  If your child has a Facebook page, insist that you have access to it.  Monitoring their page will reveal whether or not they are using gadgets like Facebook Places.  Also, tools like Norton Online Family should report such usage.

I still maintain that Facebook is no place for kids.  The company obviously cares little about privacy and safety for children and continues to make decisions that ignore these concepts.  There are other alternatives (like that give kids the same capabilities but in a safer environment without "sharp edges."

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