Canadian businesses have another place to claim their local listing information after Facebook Places was launched in the country on Friday.
Similar to other location-based social networking services such as Foursquare or Gowalla, Facebook Places allows users to ‘check-in’ to businesses, restaurants, community centres, or wherever else they might be. It offers businesses another way to target advertising on the social network, and could have broader privacy implications as well. Places has been available in the U.S. since Aug. 19.
Facebook Places is rolling out across Canada to users of Facebook’s iOS application and touch.facebook.com, says Michael Sharon, product manager at Facebook. Users will notice a new icon to tap on.
“People are already talking about their location on Facebook… we want to make it more connected and more social than just a status update,” he says.
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Businesses will have the ability to claim a Places page as their own, and manage it as part of their brand on Facebook. Facebook will confirm the claim by phoning a number associated with the business.
That makes Facebook an even more granular marketing platform for businesses, says Michelle Corsano, president of Burst Marketing. It adds location targeting to user demographics and behaviour.
“It’s one of those other stakes that Facebook has put on the table in terms of ramping up and optimizing their experience,” she says. “The real benefit is not to the user, but to Facebook advertisers.”
Facebook users will not only have the ability to share their own location, but the location of their friends as well. Using the “@” symbol to mention a friend’s Facebook name will place them at the location. Users have the option to “allow” being checked in to these places, in which case it shows up on their wall. If they don’t allow it, it just remains as a mention in the friend’s status update.
Users may opt-out of allowing friends to check them into locations, but all Facebook users will be opted in to this option by default. (Read Story: How to opt out of Facebook Places)
“We understand that location is a very sensitive type of information,” Sharon says. “We’ve made it easy for users to opt out if you want.”
Canadians have to be diligent to make sure their privacy settings are within their comfort zone, says Ann Cavoukian, the privacy commissioner of Ontario.
“It may be unclear to users that by default when the ‘check in’ their location could be viewed by other Facebook users,” she says. “I want to clarify that if you don’t want all other Facebook users to know where you have ‘checked in’, then you need to go to your privacy settings.”
Facebook should allow users to opt in to the feature, rather than requiring them to opt out, Corsano says.
“If an individual is given technology that makes a decision for them, that’s a problem,” she says. “Anything that requires personal information about someone, there should be explicit opportunity to opt-in. This is spam of a different form.”
Facebook Places will have its default privacy setting set to “Friends Only” for user check-ins, unless a user has set all their settings to “Everyone,” in which case the check-in setting will also default to “Everyone,” Sharon explains.
Facebook Places will also have a “Here Now” feature that will show users checked-in to a location other Facebook users who are also checked-in – whether they are friends or not. But if users have made their privacy settings “friends of friends” or more restrictive, they won’t appear in the ‘Here Now’ page.
Users can also delete check-ins, Sharon says. “When you remove a check-in, it disappears, it’s as if you were never there.”
Facebook currently has a Read API that allows developers to get information from the service available online. A Write and Search API is in closed beta for now. Services such as Gowalla, Foursquare and Yelp will be feeding data into Facebook Places.
Places will be available on other Facebook mobile applications soon, Sharon says. But there’s no timeline for releases yet.
Brian Jackson is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.