Facebook Places: the privacy issues of location-based networking

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 By

A woman being stalked in an alley

Facebook Places location-based networking lets users broadcast their location in real time to mobile advertisers and people they may or may not know. ThinkStock photo.

Facebook Places introduces location-based networking to the world’s biggest online social networking site. Using Facebook Places on a GPS-enabled smartphone, users can let their friends know where they are and see friends who are nearby. Facebook Places also lets users tag friends who are with them. Places also suggests other locations nearby the user may be interested in. Broadcasting a user’s location has created another layer in the Facebook privacy issues debate. Facebook Places gives businesses a powerful tool for mobile advertising and search. It could also be used by burglars and other criminals to identify targets. Personal information is vulnerable by default, but Places can be disabled in Facebook privacy settings.

Facebook Places: a tool for  mobile advertising

Facebook Places imitates innovations created by location-based networks like Foursquare and Gowalla, which allow users to “check in” at places and broadcast their location to friends. Michael Sharon, product manager for Places, told the New York Times that Places was meant to get the 500 million Facebook users to increase their usage of the social networking service. The Times pointed out that helping Facebook tap local and small-business advertisers to gain a competitive advantage over Google is the more likely objective for Places. Analysts say both companies covet the potential market for mobile advertising and search. For corporations, seeing when and where people check in offers a way to gather lucrative data on personal identities and behavior.

Facebook Places privacy issues

Broadcasting the location of Facebook users and their friends at any given moment with Places for the benefit of mobile advertising comes off as creepy to Sam Diaz at ZDNet. Diaz writes that given the ability of guests at a party at his home turning his address into a public “place” on Facebook, his only recourse is to flag his address to have it removed. He also questions the idea of being tagged by friends at their locations. However, permission to be tagged by friends can be allowed or denied in Facebook privacy settings. And Diaz said he couldn’t help but wonder how long it takes for Facebook Places to be used for a “who’s not home” app for burglars.

How to disable Facebook Places

For Facebook users who prefer to keep their location private, or stop their friends from posting it, Lifehacker provides instructions. Disabling Facebook Places requires logging in and changing the Facebook privacy settings. Facebook Places default settings allow locations where a user checks in to be seen by friends. The default also lets people know a user is at a particular location via the location’s Facebook page or in a search for people near the location. The Facebook privacy setting default also lets a user’s friends check them into places and share that location with people the user may or may not know.

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