My experience with the new Facebook Places feature has been quite entertaining. I'll not go through what it is, for that you can find a number other places that will do a much better job than I (Miami Herald Detroit Free Press MSNBC). However the fun started when I tried "tagging" a few people in my friend list. The reactions to my little experiment ran the gamut from anger to frustration to uncertainty to ridiculous. I don't have a sense for how useful Places will be in the future, but for right now it is kind of silly for my circle of 'friends'.
There are no controls in Facebook Places to limit how frequently a person can check-in. User are presented with a lengthy list of options to choose from or they can add their own location if they don't see it on the list. Since there are no controls you can check-in to as many locations as you'd like as quickly as the app will let you. Not that big of a deal if you don't mind seeing this junk show up in the news feed. The reaction here almost ended up with my wife unfriending me because she found her news feed cluttered.
The real fun starts when you start to randomly add Facebook friends to locations during the check-in process.I went on a binge and tagged a coworker that is very cautious with their usage on Facebook and they were not happy. Not because of what I did but unhappy that the news feed showed that I had tagged this person as being somewhere they were not. It did not go away until they were able to login to Facebook and change their settings. I also enjoyed a steak at 8am with a former coworker that I haven't seen in years of course this was through a random check-in at a restaurant that was not open. Two others were tagged at a coffee shop with me and they don't like coffee and live in another city. Another person I tagged at a gym, another at a kickboxing place and another at a golf store. I'm certain there have been some prank tagging making them appear at a place they shouldn't this would have been good fun in high school.
Same Place, Same Time
The issue I have with tagging is when it could be misread or misunderstood. Let's imagine a scenario where a wife sees that her husband "check-in" at a hotel while on a business trip. When looking at the hotel details the wife also notices that an old flame of the husband happens to be at the same hotel. I'm not suggesting that this is a rendezvous but in this scenario the wife might infer something is amiss. Another scenario could be that a some people are eating dinner at the same restaurant and "check-in". Perhaps these people are mutual friends of yours and you infer that you were left out of a dinner.
Stalker Texas Ranger
With a tool like Facebook Places it may be easier to keep track of where your friends are going which could be great but there could be a negative pattern. In addition to the the issues above there are people that will see an opportunity to take advantage of others naiveté with the check-in feature. There are ways to use Foursquare and Twitter to determine when people are not home thereby making them a target for crime. But robbing people is, hopefully, more of the exception. With tools like this "chance encounters" may not be as innocent as they might have been in the past. You wouldn't want to always run into "that guy" when you go out for the evening.
I realize some of these examples are a bit extreme and generally incidents are going to be few and far between. In fact I suspect there will be more stories about people being "sick" only to get busted for a check-in or being tagged at the football game or movie theater while they ditch work. The main point here is to change your settings and gain control of tagging. If anything Facebook Places now makes it more important to use friend lists and organize them in a way that will allow you to share with the proper people.