Arun Stephens

Following Zuckerberg's footsteps in London with Facebook Places

Right now, Facebook Places is only available in the United States. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s only available to United States IP addresses. And they are not that difficult to come by.

Facebook Places has been in development for around 8 months, but I’ve found evidence (for want of a better word) that it has been working, outside the US, at least since June, when several Facebookers were in London, for a hack day and a special edition of the Facebook Developer Garage.

I’ve been working out of TechHub [Facebook Place] this week, and there were four Places in the area. One was the Barbican Centre, which was where the Facebook Developer Garage was. Another was labeled “Wimbledon” but was in fact probably a pub near Tower Hill. Whoever was at that pub that day was watching Clijsters versus Zvonareva, which puts it a week after the Facebook event at the Barbican. The South Bank Centre was also visited (spelt with English spelling, rather than American, too). Another was anjunabeats.

Moving further west, towards Oxford Circus, there are a few eating establishments, but there were a few other Places that (to me, at least) prove that the feature was being tested in June. The first was Facebook London. The other was Dare Digital (now simply known as Dare) which was the location of the Facebook hack day. Mark Zuckerberg was at that event for some of the day. And he probably checked in.

Zuckerberg probably visited the Spotify Office (he spoke about Spotify at his talk at the Barbican – he spoke as a longtime user, which is interesting, given that Spotify is not available in the United States – but who am I to talk? I’m using Facebook Places!)

There were two hotels listed: Courthouse Doubletree Hilton and Le Maridian Hotel (I’m assuming that’s supposed to be Meridien).

He also mentioned visiting Number 10, but that doesn’t appear to be a Place. So, wisely, he did not check in. (Maybe he had to surrender his phone a security checkpoint?)

So it looks like that without the visit from Facebookers in June, London would have been a blank canvas for Facebook Places. That makes sense, seeing it has only launched in the United States. But even in some locations in the United States there are no Places. I assumed that the primary reason for a delayed international rollout was because Facebook had acquired a list of Places for the United States, and needed time to do the same for international locations. It turns out that’s not the case, and that the database will be more crowdsourced. So that must mean that the delayed release is for infrastructure reasons. Or perhaps it is because Facebook needs more time to deal with privacy issues in other countries.

There have been privacy concerns (as with everything Facebook does) surrounding this feature, and my little investigation appears to prove their validity, but really, once a few more people start using it, it will become harder to trace who exactly went where. But when only a few (and in this case it looks like it’s probably no more than two or three) people are using the service in a particular location, it becomes easy to paint a picture about where they went and, in some cases, who they are.

To update, a Facebook spokesperson has contacted me this afternoon to say that Facebook Places has been in beta testing to all employees, not just ones in/from the United States.