The launch of Facebook Places, which lets people “check in” to geographic locations the way they can with FourSquare, Yelp or Gowalla, has provoked a fresh round of reflection on how Facebook affects our lives and relationships. Here are 5 problems that Facebook could cause for you — and not all of them are related to Places.

1. Job-endangering embarrassment

At ZDNet, Mary Branscombe addresses the dangers of embarrassment due to location disclosure:

Think of the number of people who’ve managed to commit resignation by Facebook update when they forgot their boss was reading their updates. Do you want someone you haven’t seen since college checking you in at a bar – whether you’re there or not? The whole idea is bound to cause embarrassments and arguments – and yet the response doesn’t seem to have any of the fervour of the criticism of Buzz (and I’ve seen more complaints about Facebook squashing Foursquare than I have about the problem of letting other people say where you are).

2. Defamation
Julie Hilden at FindLaw offers a legal analysis of the prospects for defamation suits based on Facebook updates, and suggests an intriguing solution:

Should Facebook institute a response rule — under which users agree to waive their right to sue other users for Facebook defamation, in exchange for the right to respond to any statement that they think is defamatory by contacting the very same set of “friends” who originally saw the allegedly defamatory statement?…It’s always been a little strange for our defamation-law system to compensate reputational damage with money. Matching speech with counter-speech makes more sense, and Facebook has the specific ability to match a speaker to a specific audience. Thus, one way to end Facebook defamation suits, if they do arise, would be simply to moot them by agreement. In this way, Facebook users could create a litigation-free zone, and ensure that disputes on Facebook, stay on Facebook — rather than leaking into the courts and chilling Facebook users’ speech in the bargain.

Hilden doesn’t discuss the potential impact of Places, but I wonder if it opens the door to a new type of legal action based on the unwanted disclosure of 3rd party location.

3. Complicating commitment

In her delightful reflection on social media and online dating, The Miss E writes:

Now there is this whole pressure of changing your fucking Facebook status because that makes it “official”. Change it too soon and you’re crazy possessive. Change it too late and you’re cheating. It suddenly made the whole “boyfriend/girlfriend” thing so much more charged than it was previously. I never thought having a boyfriend or girlfriend meant “OMG WE R 2GETHA 4EVA.” No relationship is forever. But I always approached them with the “I am committed to this and no one else until such a time that I/you/we see an end date to it.” I’m very blunt and very honest. If my relationship gets to a point where we are unhappy, I’d rather break up and salvage a friendship than stay miserable and romantic. But that was something that you have to worry about if you hit that hump and not something you should worry about when starting a relationship. Now, just answering the question of “are we even in a relationship?” is a hump that everyone hits.

4. Impair your ability to make friends offline

At Psychology Today, Jen Kin writes about the rise of friend matchmakers: people who help other people make friends. She argues that these services are emerging because of the impact of social networks:

Nearly everyone– from pet dogs to octogenarians– has filled out a profile on Friendster, MySpace,Facebook or Linked In at some point in their lives. While the intention behinds these sites may have been to help sustain meaningful relationships, the actual effect has been to help online relationships supplant real life ones.

5. Bombard your friends

Lawrence Coburn reflects on his first encounter with Places, noting that

As I went about my business in San Francisco this past weekend, of course I was looking to log the places I went via check-in. When it came time to choose between Facebook Places and other check-in apps, I found myself reaching for the dedicated location networks.  Why?  Because I didn’t want to bombard my 500+ Facebook friends with my check-ins, and I didn’t want my Facebook profile to be dominated with only check-ins.

That’s one Facebook problem for which there is an immediate solution: if you have a list of your closest (or local) friends set up on Facebook, you can limit your visibility to that list of friends.  Here’s how:

  1. Go to Account/Privacy Settings.
  2. Under “Places I check into”,  select “customize”.
  3. Select “make this visible to”….”specific people…”
  4. In the field that appears, type the name of the list of friends you want to share your location with (in my case, that’s my “Kid-sharing friends” list).
  5. Select “save setting”.
  6. For even more control, uncheck the “Include me in “People here now” after I check in, and under “Things others share”/”Friends can check me into Places”, select “disabled.”

Do you have solutions to the other Facebook problems described above? I’d love to hear them.