Developers are wasting no time building applications on top of the newly released API for Facebook Places. Earlier this week mobile game SCVNGR announced its integration and today it’s PlacePop.
The stated purpose of the PlacePop app is to let people begin to organize, visualize and make use of the stream of “check-in” data on Facebook. The benefits for users include the ability to see what places are trending among your friends, track statistics about your own check-ins, and see your entire location history, see what places are most popular in your friends’ network, and get a real-time feed of where your friends are.
Business owners would benefit as well because PlacePop would provide local recommendations, loyalty programs and ultimately rewards via the Facebook platform. Through both mobile and web-based applications, PlacePop would provide businesses with a marketing platform for reaching their customer base through Facebook Places.
PlacePop believes that local advertising through Facebook Places would represent an ever bigger opportunity for third party developers than social gaming. While the social gaming/virtual goods market is estimated to reach $1.6 billion in 2010, the company cites figures suggesting that the traditional local advertising market was valued at $141.3 billion in 2008. The digital side of local advertising is expected to grow from $14 billion in 2008 to $32.1 billion in 2013.
The only problem is that by packaging up data from the way people use Facebook Places, the service is doing nothing to alleviate the public’s privacy concerns over the service. Judging by the messages spreading on Facebook, people are very worked up by the idea that your friends can tag you when they check into places. Many of these concerns are simply unwarranted since the first time that someone tries to tag you, Facebook will ask you whether you want to authorize or deny the request, or defer the decision until later. Nonetheless, the backlash is spreading fueled by a dangerous mix of truths, half-truths and outright falsehoods.
Now it’s NOT true that Facebook will automatically track your location just for being logged into the site. But that doesn’t mean that all privacy concerns are unwarranted. Personally I would be unlikely to use PlacePop because it would mean giving the application access to my Places data for marketing purposes. I get enough advertising in my life and I’d like recommendations to be purely based on where my friends are going, without commercial messages mixed in. There would have to be some pretty serious benefits, such as hefty discounts at my favorite local businesses, to convince me otherwise.
I might also think twice about actually using Facebook Places knowing that friends could use PlacePop to gete a live feed of my real-time location. I have over 450 friends on Facebook and as much as I value my interactions with them, I don’t really want to make it quite that easy for them to track me. It’s also not clear to me whether a friend using PlacePop would be giving the application access to my data as well as their own.
PlacePop is probably on to something when it talks about the business opportunity in local advertising. But they need to think carefully about the privacy issues and genuine benefits for users.