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You’re on Facebook, checking status updates and your friends’ latest photo albums in order to pass the time or to distract you from other tasks at hand. Lately, you and other Facebook users might have noticed something a little different – your friends “checking in” to actual locations around UC Irvine, or wherever they happen to be. This is a result of a new feature that Facebook has integrated with their mobile smartphone apps that allows the user to “check in” to a restaurant, store, venue and so on that they are visiting in real life and post this information to Facebook.

For those familiar with other apps with similar functions, such as Yelp and Gowalla, this addition to Facebook isn’t a huge surprise or something that these users haven’t seen before. However, due to the sheer magnitude of users on Facebook, this is probably the first time that many people (who may not be as technologically up-to-date as the rest of us) are seeing this type of information displayed on the Internet.

One’s first reaction might be something along the lines of: “Why would you want people to know this information?” or, “Great … just another way Facebook is making it that much easier to stalk someone.” However, tons of money is being poured into these services by companies wishing to advertise their business within the app, or to offer deals to proximal customers.

The real question is whether it is worth one’s time? Are there enough people using these services to really make this the next big thing in social networking? Maybe, but I tend to think that it’s not going to develop completely.

With social networking exploding in popularity over the past decade, it’s easy to see why companies would try to get ahead of the game and put their money where they think the next trend is going to be. However, with the growth of social networking there have also been rising concerns for privacy and personal security in certain cases.

In a report by CNN in March of this year, there was a couple that posted on Facebook that they were leaving their home to see a band perform at a local bar. One of the couple’s friends on the site saw this post and took advantage of the vacant home, breaking into their house and stealing various items. Luckily, the couple had security cameras that caught the thieves on tape. The real surprise was that the men who broke into their home were high school friends of theirs.

That being said, if simple status updates can be enough information for something like a robbery to take place, location-based posting might lead to things that are even more dangerous. As far as I know, there haven’t been any major cases of these types of crimes happening but it’s probably only a matter of time before they do.

On the upside, there’s always the advantage of feeling even more connected with your friends, whether it’s on Facebook or Yelp or whatever other social network has this feature. With apps like Yelp, users are also able to leave feedback on the places they visit, and better inform other users which places to check out and which places to skip over. You don’t have to check in to the place you’re reviewing, though, so using this feature is much more accessible and useful as a result.

Upon trying to think of a situation where checking into a restaurant or coffee shop would be useful in any sense, I can only see someone on Facebook seeing their friend has checked into the local Starbucks and deciding to get into contact with said friend and join them. Just how many people are going to use it in this fashion is questionable, considering the amount of time and resources that are being invested in this technology.

As a New York Times article on the subject points out, this service is dependent on whether users are exchanging their personal information for offers from venues, such as coupons or other deals that would come as a result of checking in to their business. The article referred to this as an exchange where the user treats their personal information as currency in exchange for these coupons or other offers. While this may be beneficial for those that constantly go to certain restaurants that offer deals like this, there are the obvious downsides that I’ve mentioned earlier.

It all comes down to what you value more – your privacy, or saving a buck here and there. While it’s entirely possible that nothing negative may come as a result of sharing this information with your friends and family, one can never be too careful with their location information.

Zachary Risinger is a second-year English major. He can be reached at zrisinge@uci.edu.

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