NEW YORK Services based on your location, such as Foursquare, are popular in the tech-centric bubbles of Silicon Valley and New York City. But for many people, these services remain odd and potentially creepy tools on your smart phone to let friends or even strangers know you just showed up to a restaurant, gym or the corner deli.
According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey this spring, only 5 percent of adult Internet users in the U.S. have used such a service. With the entry of Facebook Places to the mix, though, this number is likely to grow. For now, here is a rundown for the other 95 percent on what Facebook Places means and how to protect your privacy:
Most location services wont broadcast your whereabouts without your consent. If you want to tell people where you are, you need a smart phone with GPS or other geolocating capabilities. You begin by installing a free application for one of these services. You then check in to a place by choosing it from a list of nearby venues on your screen. You can also add venues on your own. If you dont check in, Facebook wont magically know youre there.
Whats the point?
Many people already tell Facebook friends where they are. Granted, at the gym isnt the most insightful status update, but people do it nonetheless. The Places feature builds on this so you can, temporarily, link yourself to a specific place, be it a gym or a burger joint.
If you want, you can let other people who have also checked in friends or even strangers see that you are there. Its a way to connect your online social network with your offline world. On Foursquare, theres a gaming element, too. Whoever has checked in to a place the most often becomes its virtual mayor. Users also can earn Scouts-inspired badges for checking into specific places such as Gym Rat for going to the gym 10 times in 30 days. Pointless, scary or genius? You decide.
The more information you broadcast about yourself online, the more that marketers, strangers, future or current employers and anyone else will know about you.
Are you OK with leaving an ever-expanding digital trail behind? Do you want ads to target you based on demographic information youve scattered about?
You can walk into a store and then walk out without the owner knowing who you are, but do you know what happens when you also check in, digitally? And should other people be able to share your location with the world?
Friends or friends?
Under Facebooks default settings, everyone you list as a friend will be able to see where youve checked in. But are they really your friends?
Facebooks settings allow you to exclude specific people from seeing your check-ins, or you could authorize only a select few. To do this, go to Account on the top right corner of the page. Then choose Privacy Settings and click Customize settings.
Look for a pull-down menu next to Places I check in to. Click on it, and select Custom.
To authorize people, look for These people, select Specific People... and type their names into the box underneath. To exclude just a few friends your boss, maybe, or that nosy co-worker you reluctantly friended type their names into the Hide this from box.
Take this time to go over your full list of friends, with pruning shears if need be. Does Uncle Ned or the spouse of a friend of a friend you met at a wedding last year really need to be there?
Checking in friends.
Say youre at a bar with a group of co-workers who are also your Facebook friends. When you check in, you can choose the names of those with you and check them in as well.
That could be useful for Facebook users without smart phones who want to participate, but you may not want your friends checking you in to places, for whatever reason.
Facebook will send you an e-mail notification if a friend tries to check you in someplace.
If you say Yes, friends will now always be able to check you in. If you choose Not now, youll get another notification the next time someone tries to check you in. You cant pick which friends can check you in, nor can you authorize a check-in for one-time only.
To prevent your friends from checking you in once and for all, you have to return to your privacy settings on your computer. Once youre in Customize settings, choose Disabled next to Friends can check me in to Places.