How to Almost Sabotage a Dinner Party With Facebook 'Places'

I Thought My Group of Gen-Y Over-Sharing Friends Would Be Fine Being Checked In. I Was Wrong

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Kunur Patel
Kunur Patel
Facebook Places went live last night and I decided to give it a whirl soon after being seated for Mediterranean food at a neighborhood restaurant. My husband and I were waiting for two friends and, even before they could walk through the door, I checked all of us in at Zenon Taverna in New York City.

I did so without their permission and, sure enough, a post linking all four of us to a restaurant in Queens popped up in more than 1,000 newsfeeds. I could have made this dinner party seem a lot larger than it was: all it took was searching through nearby businesses, selecting Zenon, tapping in a quick update and tagging as many of my hundreds of Facebook friends as I pleased. While I decided to stay true to life, I could have tagged a colleague in San Francisco or my aunt in Chicago. It wasn't until the server brought the third round of small plates and the second bottle of wine that I decided to tell the party that I had checked them all in on Facebook.

Shock ensued.

Keep in mind this was a foursome of 20-somethings, a bunch of typical iPhone-toting over-sharers who have all been guilty an incriminating photo or tweet. Among us were at least a couple of Foursquare mayorships and one notorious Facebook photo tagger. Together, we have 1,544 Facebook friends. From our profile pages, you'll learn what we're doing at work, where we live, what we're reading, e-mail addresses, even one cellphone number. Via mobile uploads and wall posts, you'll find out one of us recently took two trips: one out of the city for a clam bake, and Philadelphia before that.

So they were all OK with being checked in at a Mediterranean joint in Queens, right? Well, wrong. To my surprise, the group was appalled that I could tag their locations without them knowing. One said while he's on Foursquare, he keeps tight guard on who gets to follow him there, while his Facebook pool is far wider and includes people he doesn't feel comfortable sharing location with. He later said that while he's OK with advertisers knowing what websites he's visited or other such details, he's really not into acquaintances, exes and coworkers knowing where he is at any given moment. That's personal.

Our other friend was worried that Facebook check-ins could undo the white lies he weaves to get out of plans or, even worse, dates. A Facebook post that tags you at a bar on the Lower East Side definitely trumps a text earlier in the night that reads: "I can't go out tonight, home with a cold, xo." Of course, an incriminating photo could do the same thing, but Places makes it so, well, easy.

Now, there's no doubt Facebook's new location service can be the holy grail of customer loyalty, driving traffic and coupons that millennials might actually use. Like Foursquare, but with brand-level scale. But while it may sound like a great idea for a major retailer to offer me 25% off for checking five friends into a store on Fifth Avenue, what happens when it pisses off my five friends for letting the whole world know they actually do shop at the Gap? And are you going to check to verify all five of those friends actually joined me and don't live in Chicago?

While my first test left me skeptical, a closer look at Facebook privacy settings this morning and the level of customization for location information makes me believe these early snafus can indeed be worked out. But I have to say: this is going to ruffle a lot of feathers before most people figure this out. After dinner, my husband found an email in his inbox sent the exact minute I tagged him in my check-in: "Kunur Patel wants to check you in at Zenon Restaurant." Even though he deleted the email without opening it, and didn't discover it until hours later, his name popped up in my check-in and is still there.

And since the offending check-in, there has been one change of heart: one of the four says he saw the post on Facebook today and was reminded of what a nice dinner we'd had. Another friend, for whatever reason, untagged himself.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kunur Patel covers digital agencies and mobile marketing for Advertising Age. You can follow her at twitter.com/kunur

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