August 26, 2010

Facebook Places: Another Adventure in Privacy

Already a big fan of location-based applications like Foursquare and Gowalla, I was pretty excited to try out Facebook Places.
In short, Facebook Places lets you and your friends check into a location. Once checked in, you can see who else out of your friends is at that location or one nearby. Cool right? But, as with any Facebook update, the addition of Places brings a whole new slew of privacy updates to your Profile that you must know about. So, here are a few things to make note of to ensure that you are comfortable with your settings and what you are sharing on Facebook.
1. Opt out of friends checking YOU in. With Facebook Places, the setting is automatically defaulted to “Enabled,” allowing friends to check you in on your behalf. As I wrote this post I was able to check-in at Starbucks on my iPhone from my desk at work (across the freeway from Starbucks) and tag a friend as being there with me. At first, both of us showed up on my Facebook Profile page as being checked in. Then Facebook Places sent an email letting my friend know I was trying to check her in. Once she approved it, a post showed up on her Facebook Profile page.
If you’re comfortable giving friends’ control over your location, then the default option is for you. If you prefer to keep that information in your hands only, you can “Disable” the setting on the “Privacy Settings” tab under Account, by choosing “Customize Settings.”
But it is also important to note that I was able to post that I was somewhere with my friend that I really wasn’t, so keep that in the back of your mind when making your decision.
2. Public opt in options. If you check in, people who aren’t your “Friends” have the potential to see where you are (see image below). Luckily, Facebook guards your privacy for this setting by giving you the ability to opt in.
I’m a regular user of other location-based applications such as Foursquare, but for safety reasons I tend to check in only when I am with friends or when I am leaving a place. And, I have a rule that I must actually know you to share my location information with you on Foursquare; which is private unless I feed it to Twitter. Personally, I haven’t decided yet if I will change this to the public setting, but if you’re comfortable allowing others to see your current location, click “Enable” where it says “Include me in “People Here Now” after I check in.”
Additionally, remember that Facebook Places or locations added are public. So, to the people who check in to your house…you are sharing your address for the world to see!

3. Adjust your Friends lists. More than likely you’ve set up friends lists that modify what each sees of your profile. As a Facebook user, you would think those same lists would apply to the new Facebook Place application.
Well, not so fast. The default setting for Facebook Places is that all of your Friends can see where you check in. So, to keep this private you will need to adjust the settings under “Places I check in to.”
These tips aren’t meant to scare you away from Facebook Places or other location-based applications. Just be aware before diving in, and as always, think before you post, tweet or update.

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