Lately, the pervasiveness of location-based gaming (or clever marketing aimed at getting you to broadcast your locations and habits for the monetary gain of both the platform creators and business, whichever you want to call it) has been really bugging me. Really, it’s the fact that these developers allow ignorance of their product within their user base.
It all started with Foursquare/Gowalla, then Facebook got their paws on the game, as well. There are primary differences in the way Foursquare and Gowalla came about geo-gaming and the way Facebook came about it. Foursquare and Gowalla primarily foster a network that has one purpose: go places, tell your network, be rewarded. One chose their network with the understanding that this is an application that shares your location; those who you may not care to know your location should not be included in your network. Now, let’s look at Facebook. Facebook started as a way for college students to connect. Then, it graduated to a platform for the whole world to connect on, and people have been encouraged for years to upload their lives and share details and funny finds. Facebook then decides that Foursquare and Gowalla have a brilliant money-making business plan and crashes their parade. Now, you can “check-in” on Facebook – and tell your network who is there with you.
Facebook is a gorilla in the social game, and if they can get in on the location train, then power to them. The problem comes when Facebook fails to advise their users on the differences between their location service and the services provided by its competitors. I’ve certainly never seen a popup or anything informative with regard to privacy at the top of my page after logging in. The only place Facebook puts this information is deep within the help forums or the “privacy settings” section, where only someone who is already aware of the implications of sharing location within an established network not meant for location-sharing would find it. And that’s the kicker: the Facebook network (though used differently by many people) is there to primarily preserve the potential to network with a large number of people, though you may not speak to them often or care about what they did last weekend. Those sharing locations (theirs and others’) are not prompted to think about the implications of doing so, nor are those implicated (if someone checks them in to a place) made aware of how to remove their names from the activity.
Facebook likes to assume that its users have a certain level of digital literacy (at least on paper… I’m fairly positive that’s exactly the opposite of what they’re hoping). This is often not the case, and the fact that Facebook is consistently attempting to monetize this reality is extraordinarily unethical. The truth is that Facebook is the big elephant in the room – except it’s really noisy and it stinks, but it makes you breakfast and tells you that you look good today, so at least for now we’re willing to overlook all that.