Put yourself on the map

Put yourself on the map

Facebook Places lets your friends know where you are, but some are worried about their privacy

A mobile Facebook function launched in Hong Kong last month has created a storm. And social media experts are saying that this function is not just about bonding with your friends - businesses can take advantage of it as well.

Like other location-based social networks such as Foursquare and Gowalla, Facebook Places is a global positioning function that allows users to "check in" and tell friends where they are by simply clicking a button on their smartphone.

Facebook hopes the function will bring people closer by sharing their location. For example, if a user "checks in" when he visits Stanley Beach, his location will appear on his Facebook page so that his friends know where he is. Users can also write about what they are doing and who they are with, upload pictures and tag friends.

The app is already proving popular. An online poll of 85 people by Young Post shows that almost 70 per cent use Facebook Places.

Vanessa Ip from TWGHs Li Ka Shing College said the function was interesting and useful. She once used it when she was having dinner with some classmates in an Indian restaurant. They "checked in" because they liked the food and wanted to recommend the restaurant to their friends.

But CCC Kei Yuen College student Rachel Cheng Hiu-tan is not a fan, because she says it reveals too much information. Kidnappers could gather information about a user's schedule and abduct him or her on the way to an appointment. Ella Chan from Chinese International School also has concerns about privacy. She says revealing your location is the same as telling malicious people how to find you.

But some people argue the function has more uses than sharing an individual's whereabouts. Businesses can claim the location of their company as "theirs" and set up a fan page. They can then collect data when people check in.

City University's e-commerce programme leader, Dr Terence Cheung Chun-ho, encourages businesses to use this capability

"Businesses can use the fan page connected to the Facebook Places function to gather customer information such as age group and buying habits," he says. Companies can come up with marketing strategies that target different groups of customers.

But he warns of a potential danger of using Facebook as a marketing tool.

He says if an annoyed customer writes a letter of complaint on the fan page, all members of the Facebook group will find out. This could have a negative effect on the brand's image.

Kate Tang Wing-sum is a marketing specialist of a leading cosmetic company in Hong Kong. She also believes the Facebook Places function offers tremendous business opportunities.

She says that by linking the function to the company's fan page, companies can gather their customers' information.

"The most important thing is the engagement. It is not just a one-way channel. Companies can communicate with their customers," she says.

She is less worried than Cheung about disgruntled customers.

"If the negative comments turn out to be false, loyal customers will speak up to defend the brand," she says.

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