I continue to count the days until Diaspora becomes a reality. While it’s still somewhat vaporware, I love the idea of having a privacy aware, personally controlled, open source social network. For now, though, we have Facebook to contend with.
Facebook has been taking a beating lately in the privacy department. The scrutiny has come from past quotes by its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who most recently pointed to a future where the age of privacy is over. Sticking with that brave new future, Facebook recently announced Places.
Like foursquare and Gowalla – strange partners in this new venture – Facebook users can now check-in their current location, and share it with their friends on Facebook. To use Places, Facebook users can either use the Facebook iOS app or their minimalist mobile site.
Potential Privacy Issues with Facebook Places
Like most new ideas and services, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Foursquare admitted that there are inherent risks to location sharing, and Please Rob Me did an excellent job at highlighting those risks. Unlike foursquare and Gowalla, Facebook presents a different playing field for geo-location services. Facebook is relationship based, and relationships are always much more complicated to manage.
Unique Problems of Facebook Places
- Not all friends are friends – Facebook is an amazing networking tool, and many people feel pressured to accept friendship requests, regardless of how well they know or don’t know someone.
- Facebook is a big target – Similar to the security problems that Windows struggles with, Facebook is an easy target for phishing attempts. If your friend’s account is compromised, so is your current location.
- Locale can be shared with non-friends – Like a built-in creep feature, Places can share your location with other Facebook users you’re not friends with.
- You let everyone know you’re gone – Whether it’s a relationship that’s gone sour, a compromised account or a desperate friend, using Places will let everyone know you’re not home.
While this may sound like a bunch of FUD, these are all valid privacy concerns.
Managing Privacy Settings for Facebook Places
Fortunately, Facebook did provide the ability to control and opt-out of Places. Here’s a step-by-step guide to controlling your Facebook Places privacy.
Go to your Facebook Privacy Settings page, located on the Account menu.
Then click on the Customize settings link.
Things I Share
The first section to edit is Things I Share. Select Customize for the Places I check in to option.
Like the other Custom Privacy options in Facebook, you can choose specific people to share or not share with. If you want to use Places to keep track of where you travel to, but you don’t want to share it with anyone, you can choose Only Me.
When you check in to a location, if you don’t want people you don’t know to know you’re there, then you will want to uncheck the Include me in “People Here Now” after I check in option. Otherwise, Facebook users that are checked in to the same location, or a location near you, may be able to see that you’re there.
Things Others Can Share
Facebook also allows your friends to check you into a location for you. Whaaa?!?! Yeah, I know. At the time of this writing, that option appeared to have no option selected. However, you never know when Facebook is going to make the decision for you. So it’s probably best to go ahead and enable or disable this feature.
Taking control of your privacy on Facebook Places will ensure that you have the level of comfort and safety you want, and I encourage everyone to consider the privacy options available to them.