Facebook Places: We know where you are
August 31, 2010 | By Damon Armour, IT Security Officer, contributing writer
Facebook has released a new service called Places that is similar to Foursquare (www.foursquare.com). To introduce Places, Facebook states: “If you’re like me, when you find a place you really like, you want to tell your friends you’re there. Maybe it’s a new restaurant, a beautiful hiking trail or an amazing live show. Starting today, you can immediately tell people about that favorite spot with Facebook Places. You can share where you are and the friends you’re with in real time from your mobile device.” This will enable Facebook users to check in at their locations around town, so their friends can see where they are. It sounds just like Foursquare, right? In this case, though, Facebook users can tag those who are with them as well in Places.
Sharing an individual’s location is one thing, but the ability to share a friend’s location with you is another. In most cases, tagging a friend is harmless and makes it easier for a larger group of friends to get together. Yet there could be cases where it could cause trouble. For instance, a friend was supposed to be at home working on a specific chore, or had homework that must be completed prior to leaving the house, or had claimed to be ill. The list could go on.
Facebook has provided us options on how to control the way that Places is presented to our friends. Facebook has set the default for “Friends Only” on the Places tagging. Once a friend has tagged an individual in Places, a notice is sent to that friend. The friend must accept in order for the tagging to take effect. By accepting, the friend is opting into the Places service and will not receive another notice on any further tagging. If you decline the tagging, it will only decline for that one instance.
Along with the default of “Friends Only,” Facebook has enabled users to further select a subset of your friends if you wish to further limit the privacy settings of Places. Even with the added privacy features, some users will not want to participate in Places at all. In this case, Facebook offers the ability to disable friends tagging an individual at all for the Places app. You would just go to the Facebook Privacy Settings and uncheck Let Friends Check Me In.
With Places, Facebook has provided a tool called Here Now, where you can see others who are checked in with you at that place. This section is visible for a limited amount of time and only to people who are checked in there. That way you can meet other people who might share your interests. This provides a listing of checked-in Facebook users at the same location. “Here Now” is basically an on-or-off feature. It does not provide the granularity of Places with who can view what. Here Now also is defaulted to “on” unless a user has none of the privacy settings set to “Everyone.” If this service is not of interest to a user, it can be turned off by unchecking the Include me in ‘People Here Now’ after I check in box.
Places provides another way for friends to keep in touch and get together. As with all applications, options, etc., within Facebook, careful evaluation of the privacy implications is necessary. Limit your exposure to that which you feel most comfortable. Facebook, on August 20, provided a detailed video on the privacy options of Places: www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=697692691093.
Facebook Blog: Who, What, When, and Now…Where
EFF: How to Protect Your Privacy on Facebook Places
Dotrights: Facebook Places: Your Friends Are Here, But What About Your Privacy?
Yahoo: The 411 on Facebook Places and privacy