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Facebook Places: How it works, and how to turn it off

Facebook Places lets users announce where they are and who they're hanging out with – whether real or made-up.

By Matt Rocheleau / August 19, 2010

Facebook Places lets users broadcast their whereabouts.

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An acquaintance of yours – someone you're only ‘friends’ with on Facebook – asks what you’re doing this weekend. You’d rather not hang out with him, so you lie (to avoid any hurt feelings). You’ll be out of town, you explain. "Maybe next time."

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All clear, right?

Before yesterday, only an awkward run-in or a blabbing friend could give you away. Now, there's a new potential snitch: Facebook Places.

The massively popular social network rolled out a new feature this week that shares your location with Facebook friends and alerts you if a buddy is nearby.

Prepare for all kinds of useful applications and unforeseen consequences. A friend could tag your whereabouts – true or untrue – ruining your white-lie alibi. Facebook could warn you that the acquaintance you're avoiding just arrived at the same party, better think fast. Or, in theory, you could tell Facebook Places that you've hit the beach this weekend, corroborating your story.

Whether Facebook Places will take off has yet to be seen, but one thing has been clear through the first 48 hours of its launch: both using and turning off the feature has been confusing users, reporters, and Facebook alike.

The feature does not fully opt you in to the program automatically, but it also takes a bit of work to fully opt out. Contrary to what Facebook initially reported, you can fully opt of sharing any information – including being tagged by friends – through Facebook Places.

How Facebook Places works

When you’d like to let your online buddies know your current location, you can "check in" and select from a list of "places" nearby. Facebook also lets you add your own "places" if none of its suggestions adequately describe where you are. Your pals’ News Feeds are then filled in on your location information and you can post a status update to describe more about what you’re up to.

You can also see if any Facebook users have checked in nearby – even if they are not a friend of yours online.

Similar to tagging friends in photos, anyone who's checked in may "tag" friends that they are with. If you enable the let-your-friends-check-you-in feature, when you’re tagged, you will appear as checked in as if you had done so yourself. If you opt out of Facebook Places, your name will still appear when you’re tagged, but you will not be checked in. Checking in is like a more involved way of tagging. You may always remove identifying tags completely.

“If your friend tags you at a place, and you have clicked ‘Allow’ (or used Places yourself) then it’s as if you yourself had checked in. You will show up in the Here Now and in the Friends Who Have Visited,” says Facebook spokeswoman Meredith Chin in an e-mail. “If your friend tags you at a place, and you have not used Places or click ‘Not Now,’ then it’s as if it’s just a status tag. So you will be mentioned in the update, but you will not show up at the place.”

Friend-initiated tags and check-ins show you as being at the same place as your friend – the feature does not allow friends to check you in somewhere else beside where they are checked in and if a friend checks in or tags you, it does not show your location based on where your device is.

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