Two weeks ago Facebook announced a new feature called Places. If you’re one of the social networks 500 million users, you’ve likely heard about it. If you’re not, you’ve still likely heard about it. Facebook Places, like Foursquare, Loopt, and Gowalla, offers a service that allow users to “check in” to venues (businesses, restaurants, events, etc.) and share their physical location with friends. While Facebook essentially offers the same functionality as sites like Foursquare and Gowalla, it differs from its competitors in one huge way (literally). As previously alluded to, Facebook is 500 million users deep and Places not only intends to tap into this preexisting subscriber base, but also hopes to bring location-based services to the masses.
However, Places has its work cut out for it. Despite the increasing popularity and rapid growth of location-centric social networking platforms, Americans have been slow to adopt such services. According to Forrester Research, a minuscule 4 percent of Americans have tried location-based services and only 1 percent of users use them weekly. This means that of 310 million Americans, approximately 12.4 million have interacted with or used location-based services. So what’s stopping everyone else?
A recent poll conducted by Lifehacker potentially sheds some light on the forces at play. After posing the question: “Do you share your location?” 4,360 readers revealed the likelihood of sharing their physical whereabouts with others.
While more than one-third of participants admit to, at least occasionally, sharing their location, the majority of respondents preferred avoiding location services altogether. It’s clear that a lack of incentives and a concern for privacy are two significant obstacles in the path of mainstream US adoption. Approximately one-fifth of the voters saw little reason to share their location, while the remaining 53.99 percent chose not to share their location for the sake of maintaining their privacy.
More than half of the participants polled raise a valid concern: How can one maintain their privacy while simultaneously broadcasting their physical location on a regular basis? Privacy becomes a major issue when users fear their every move is being observed. If not used carefully, a user’s safety could potentially be at risk. This scares people and Places will have to address these very real concerns.
If anyone can bring location to the masses, it’s Places. But before Facebook’s grand ambitions can become a reality, it must first clearly demonstrate value to the average American and assure its users a sufficient level of privacy. Until then, location will be ruled by the few.