Facebook privacy update also brings changes to Places

The social Web has been all abuzz the last few days about the next big wave of changes that are coming to Facebook, and for once the reaction doesn’t seem terribly negative. At long last, Big Blue seems to have largely straightened out the increasingly tangled maze of privacy settings that users have had to fight their way through over the last few years; one of the biggest disadvantages of Facebook’s adding layer upon layer of functionality to their product is the result it’s had upon the average user’s opt-in/opt-out privacy checklist. (In other words, figuring out how to share only what you want to share can be frustrating at best, impossible at worst.)

According to screenshots in Facebook’s official teaser of the changes (we’re still waiting on the rollout ourselves), gone is the multi-layered sharing checklist that until now has lived under Account -> Privacy Settings. Instead, sharing options will primarily go inline. Visit your profile’s Info screen, and you’ll be able to control public visibility section by section. (Don’t want to tell the world, let alone your friends list, you’re into Britney Spears? There you go.) As a big bonus, the “Preview Profile As …” button that’s been buried under several screens of privacy navigation will now appear at the top of your profile, making it easy to step into someone else’s shoes and double-check exactly who sees what info.

This approach carries through to your Wall, too, which is where it gets really interesting. Now every time you post, you’re given an easier-to-use dropdown that lets you choose visibility (with a promise that the list of options will grow more granular over time, a la Google+) – as well as edit that visibility later. And here’s the game-changer: You can tag each post, whether you’re accessing Facebook on your phone or on a computer, with a location. This functionality actually completely replaces Facebook Places as we’ve known it for the last year. Mobile versions of Facebook will lose the Places menu option, instead encouraging you to geo-identify whenever you post content.

So what does this actually mean – particularly for businesses like Starbucks, who’ve deeply integrated Facebook check-in deals into their overall marketing plans? (If you’re curious, Starbucks stores actually top the list of where Facebook users check in, followed by Buffalo Wild Wings.) According to Facebook’s own estimate, an “old-style” place check-in reaches an average of 130 people, which is pretty effective free marketing if harnessed correctly. Facebook promises that check-in deals won’t go away; instead, they’ll surface in the user’s News Feed after that particular user has checked in (here’s a flow diagram of how it’ll look on the iPhone). But will people remember to look for them, let alone redeem them? And once our personal news feeds are clogged with inline geoposting by our friends, how long before that info gets passed over by our eyes while we’re scanning for the details that really matter to us?

So while Facebook’s new privacy settings are being pretty well received so far, the verdict really seems to be out on the revamped Places from the point of view of both marketer and consumer. Will this truly be a threat to big-name location-based services like Foursquare, or will it actually be the final nail in the Places coffin? We’d love to hear what you think once you get the new rollout. Post your thoughts in the comments.