Even as we busily plug our personal information into Facebook, the powerhouse social network is about to get a whole lot more personal. It’s getting ready to link geo-location information to your actions on the social site.
The news comes via a recent adjustment to Facebook’s terms and conditions (historically an act fraught with controversy) that, while it adjusts the text to satisfy Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, also includes the following words:
Location Information. When you share your location with others or add a location to something you post, we treat that like any other content you post (for example, it is subject to your privacy settings). If we offer a service that supports this type of location sharing we will present you with an opt-in choice of whether you want to participate.”
In no uncertain terms, this indicates that Facebook is chasing Twitter’s move to geotag Tweets, possibly thanks to GPS systems built into pretty much every new smartphone. It looks like Facebook’s system will also be opt-in, for privacy reasons, and that it will work with things like status updates, comments on other people’s posts, photos, and so on.
It’s certain to open up all sorts of new ways to use Facebook–it’s easy to imagine geotag-based Facebook games, for one thing, and it’ll make Facebook’s photo archive facility much more powerful–but what’s in it for Facebook? As usual, it comes down to data and money. Facebook will certainly be able to spin all that geotagged information towards location-sensitive advertisers, much as it does currently by examining your IP so that you get localized ads in the sidebar. The geotag archive is also a useful dataset all by itself–it could be useful for cell phone companies trying to work out where and how people use mobile data the most, or for academic research–and Facebook may well be able to make money here too.
There will be privacy issues of course, and there’s bound to be at least one stalking case that hits the news involving Facebook, but it’s actually an exciting change. That’s because most of the uses this system will be put to haven’t been dreamed up yet.