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FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.
Facebook has just brought to the fore its new service called Facebook Places that allows users to alert others to their physical location and that ultimately seeks to enable Facebook to draw upon local business advertisers. And as Facebook moves forward with Places, it has been confronted with concerns expressed by privacy advocates.
Facebook Places, in some ways similar to other location-based social networks, enables Facebook members to check in via mobile devices and announce their physical location to friends. Using Places, they will be able to ascertain if any of their friends are in the same geographic vicinity. They further will be able to discern whether others, who have broadcast their location, also have checked in at the same place.
And there is more. Friends who are physically with users can be tagged. Plus, Places will provide ideas as to other close by locations that might interest users. Places will broadcast check-ins via periodic status updates.
While Places may provide yet one more feature of interest to users, plainly Facebook hopes that Places will help the company gain advertising revenue from local businesses in specific locations.
Of course, as things seemingly go with Facebook, with each step forward comes a new round of criticism from privacy advocates. Indeed, swiftly on the heels of Facebook's announcement of Places, the ACLU has leveled some specific privacy concerns.
The first primary concern expressed by the ACLU is that "no" is not a true option when it comes to Places. While Places permits friends to tag someone when they check in from a location, and while Facebook makes it simple to say "yes" to allow friends to check in for someone else, when dealing with potentially declining that feature, the only option provided is "not now" (a deferral) instead of "no," according to the ACLU.
The next major concern raised by the ACLU has to do with the "Here Now" feature of Places that provides a list of people who for a given location have checked in recently. According to the ACLU, while Facebook makes it simple to inform others of someone's location, there is limited power to control who actually knows of an individual's location.
Of course, dialogue is helpful. To the extent legitimate privacy concerns are raised as Places becomes more fully understood, hopefully Facebook will listen and implement measures best designed to alleviate privacy concerns while still maintaining the potential benefits to users of Places.
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com) where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.