Geolocation is an emerging technology, especially among (but is not limited to) smartphones. Simply put, geolocation tracks the geographical location of a user and reports it. That information can then be used in a variety of ways - if I'm in a strange city looking for a restaurant, my smartphone can help me find one without much effort because it knows exactly where I am. That's cool. There are also apps that allow people to locate friends, recommend venues, and track family members, all based on their locations. Even this blog uses geolocation: scroll down to the bottom of the screen and you will see that I am tracking the location of all my visitors. Geolocation services can be useful in the right context.
So how will Facebook be using geolocation? There has been no formal explanation yet. In fact, though the reports of geolocation services are coming from anonymous Facebook insiders, the company has not commented on this feature to date. Many experts think it will mimic the functionality of Foursquare. Foursquare is a web and mobile application that allows registered users to connect with friends and update their location. If that is the case, then Facebook's geolocation will have the capability of reporting where a person is when they are logging in to Facebook.
My first question is why? With all of the inane dribble that people post on Facebook, now we have to know where they are when they are posting it? "Hey everyone...here are pictures of my root canal and here is the exact location of my dentist." I would guess that Facebook is looking to compete with the increasingly popular Foursquare (whose popularity is a mystery to me) in the mobile space.
My second question is, have they really thought this through? I understand that this will probably be a service that members will choose whether or not to use. But the availability of it to children is concerning. Kids' don't always think things through. Kids also love new widgets and gizmos and studies show that kids will add new features to their Facebook page without even knowing what they do. Here is a tool that reports a child's exact location any time they log into Facebook - their home, their friend's houses, their school...do you see what I'm saying? Talk about making it easy for sexual predators. The "choice" about whether or not to use this service doesn't make it any safer. Kids' don't always make the best choices.
I view this as another reason why parents should think twice before letting their kids join Facebook and another reason why parents should constantly be involved with their kids' Facebook lives.
After Facebook's pathetic attempt to put up a "safety" smokescreen with their partnership with CEOP (read about it here), they add a feature like this? One step sideways, two steps back. You should be convinced by now that your child's safety is definitely NOT something Facebook cares about and you should react accordingly knowing your children are using Facebook.
The best analogy I can come up with about Facebook is this... If I told you that someone was building a brand new amusement park down the road that ignored every known best practice and precaution for safety, would you let your kids go there? Would you, at the very least, accompany your child when they visited? My growing disdain for Facebook's complete indifference over child safety alone tells me to not trust them. This latest feature is just another step toward a complete lack of privacy online. If adults want to make that choice, so be it. But the option shouldn't be available to kids.