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Facebook ditches Places - but embiggens location tracking

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Facebook is abandoning its Places feature after just one year since it launched the function – at the same time, location settings within the social network are being ramped up.

The company buried the news yesterday that Places would be "going away" in a blog post announcing Facebook's latest "privacy" tweaks.

"In the same way we know people want to say who they're with or what they want to talk about, we also know people like to say where [sic] are or where they are off to – in order to help people do this we created 'check-ins'," said Facebook.

"We have now matured the 'check-in' and your chosen location can now be tagged in your posts by any device (mobile or laptop). This is an opt-in function and can be as broad as a town or country, or specific as your favourite pub."

Previously, Places was a separate function clumsily bolted on to Facebook that could only be used via smartphones.

The location changes will gradually be rolled into Facebook over the next few weeks starting tomorrow (25 August). The firm will turn the function off by default, in a clear effort to appease privacy campaigners, who are increasingly scrutinising the social network's settings.

Facebook, of course, is in the business of data-farming. Like other interwebs players it shares that information – in an anonymised form – with advertisers.

And users who enable the new location settings can expect more granular results. For example, a person no longer has to be physically standing in the KFC off Piccadilly Circus to geo-tag it in a Facebook post.

All of this links nicely into the company's Deals offering, which is a Groupon-like service to encourage Facebook users to snap up local coupon discounts at coffee shops, retail outlets and so on.

Arguably, the location changes are about to clog up Facebook's News Feed with much more ad-related content, given that it is becoming a central part of the social network. That's because any "friends" that opt-in to the service will be broadcasting to the world exactly which coffee house or fried-chicken joint they're hanging out in.

Meanwhile, a Facebook spokeswoman downplayed early reports about the privacy changes that suggested the company was simply competing with Google+ on how it handles its social graph.

"Naturally people are going to make comparisons but these are changes that Facebook has been working on for six months in order to make sure it is right for users and that it can be scaled for the 750 million users on Facebook," she said.

"So not something that has been developed as a response to Google+, it has been developed in response to what we're hearing from people who use Facebook." ®

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