That was fast: just 24 hours after Facebook unveiled its geolocation and "check-in" service, Facebook Places, ambitious start-up Topguest tells CNET that it's already worked Facebook Places into its hotel loyalty points offering.
Topguest, which aims to partner with hotel chains, restaurants, airports, and other travel- and hospitality-related venues to power rewards programs for frequent customers, now counts Facebook Places among the check-in services that it aggregates. It joins the likes of Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt, and Yelp.
Topguest CEO Geoff Lewis told CNET that the start-up was able to launch Facebook Places integration so quickly simply because it "works fast." That said, the service's use of Facebook Places is fairly simple and relies solely on the limited portion of the Facebook Places application program interface (API) that's already publicly available.
The "read" portion of the Facebook Places API, which lets a third-party service collect Facebook Places check-ins if the user in question has given the application permission to access Places, went live on Thursday. The rest of the Facebook Places API ("write" and "search," which will lets third-party services publish check-ins to Facebook and find nearby places, respectively) are currently getting tested with the launch partners in a closed beta. Considering Topguest only needs to tabulate check-ins, working in the "read" API would not take long.
This is a boon for Topguest. As the start-up attempts to ink more partnerships with hotel chains and other venues in the hospitality niche, the ability to say that it can count Facebook check-ins will be big--even if Facebook Places doesn't catch on, the social network's 500 million active members (granted, Places is currently restricted to the U.S.) make it instantly far bigger than the likes of Foursquare or Booyah. Right now, Topguest has partnerships in place with the Standard, Grand, and Viceroy boutique hotel chains, as well as the larger InterContinental hotels, which owns Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza as well as the eponymous InterContinentals. But it's going to have to seal a lot more deals soon to keep up the momentum.
So then there's the privacy issue. What happens to other check-ins from non-Topguest venues, considering the company technically has access to them if a user grants permission? This has been one of the major concerns of Places critics, who say that Facebook members are effectively signing their physical location away to third-party services without adequately knowing what could be done with it.
Lewis says Topguest will play by fair rules. "We don't share personal data about anyone's check-ins to anyone. No Topguest user can be personally identified by a Topguest client," Lewis told CNET. As for the company itself, he explained, non-anonymized data "is inaccessible to every employee aside from one employee who is data administrator and needs to have access to it in order to ensure it's anonymized from everyone else. This employee is a trained lawyer and has signed a confidential information agreement which prohibits him from sharing any confidential user data with anyone including other Topguest employees."
He says that these are tighter restrictions than most geolocation services offer.