On Wednesday, Facebook launched Places, its long-rumored system to let you broadcast your real-world location to everyone in your social network. Click here for instructions on how to disable it.
OK, I'm not recommending that you turn it off just yet. But this is how things go with Facebook. Places represents another in a series of big changes to how you interact with your friends, family, co-workers, and strangers on the site. It's sure to affect your relationships in amazing and awful ways, most likely both. Given the scope of this initiative, it's not paranoid to think about turning it off. I've got one particular fear about Places: With this system, Facebook becomes the honesty police, a social truth serum that will prevent you from casually lying to your friends, family, and co-workers about where you were, what you were doing, and whom you were with last night. This may sound like a good thing. It's not.
The idea behind Places isn't new. It works pretty much like Foursquare, the location-based startup that has attracted millions of users over the last year. When you visit a shop or restaurant, you can pull out your phone and "check in" to that location on Places, just like you can on Foursquare. Now all of your friends—or, given Facebook's variable privacy settings, possibly everyone in the universe—will know where you are. Foursquare fans say this is a good thing, because it promotes chance encounters—you'll know when your friends are hanging out at a nearby club—and it leaves a record of popular places around town—if lots of people are checking in at the taco truck on the corner, it must be delicious.
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