Facebook ‘Places’ More Privacy Concerns On Us

Facebook Places ConcernsWell Facebook Places is here and you can now check-in to places (only for US customers at present) with the Facebook App, so friends and others can see where you are.  Useful? – probably.  A privacy concern? – most definitely.

The use of geo-location apps has been growing with the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla taking the lead.  Having used Foursquare at SXSW in Texas earlier this year I recognise that there a use for a general public check-in in order to identify the ‘happening’ places. However, for me this very public announcement of where I was had marginal value. In addition, I feel that there are significant obvious drawbacks that I believe outweigh the advantages.

I do understand that using Facebook in order to check-in to places so my friends (and for me, only my friends) can see where I am, might be useful to help link up.  An immediate problem though is that my Facebook friends include very close friends, close-ish friends and others from sports clubs and the like that I know, am friendly with, but are not that close with.  As we know, the issue with Facebook is that I can’t restrict who knows where I am.

So onto privacy: why am I concerned?  The Facebook blog makes it clear that my Facebook friends can check me in somewhere without me doing it.  OK so what’s the problem – I can set a privacy control to stop this being broadcast after all.  Yes, but why is the default set so that others can do it. Surely the responsible, ethical default setting should be that only I can control my check-ins? Anything else is a breach of my privacy and right to controlling that privacy.

Three further things worry me.  Firstly, Facebook seem to have invented quite a few new privacy settings to control various features of the new Places function.  These are not all in one place, not set to protective defaults and are not eminently clear as to what they do.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if Facebook can make their overall user experience so good and so easy, then they should be able to do the same for their privacy settings.  The very fact that they don’t can only be a deliberate policy to fool people into being more open than they would otherwise opt-in to be.

Secondly, this quote from the Facebook blog is priceless: “If you don’t want to share your check-ins with your friends’ applications, just uncheck the new box in your Privacy Settings under ‘Applications and Websites’”.  So if I do nothing and my friend uses a dodgy application that abuses their check-in data, mine can be abused too – without me having any idea whatsoever what application my friend is using or what that app is doing with the data!!  This is horrendous.  Facebook should definitely set the default for that option to disable, but they haven’t – and they’ve neatly buried the privacy option so most users won’t see it. This is unethical and wrong.

Finally, nowhere in the Facebook announcement clearly states what Facebook is going to do with all this rich new check-in information they are getting (we’re providing them).  Are they going to use it only internally or are they going to share with and sell to partners? Is the data going to be anonymised or will I be identifiable? Facebook have a duty of care over the data we share with them and the first duty is to tell us what they do with the data so we can make informed choices as to how we use Facebook.

Overall Facebook Places will be a well received addition to the Facebook toolset. However privacy concerns over the new feature are not just noise nor are they carping comments from those not sharing in the Facebook success story. These are legitimate concerns and have very real adverse effects for the majority of Facebook users who are just not aware of what they are letting themselves in for.


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  3. I first stumbled on a Places type listing for one of my busineses some time, ago, and SOMEONE ELSE claimed it! I was unable to delete or edit any of the information. Now comes Facebook, and I found that a family member has their name and home address (and map) published in Places. They NEVER had or used Facebook. They do NOT own a business. They simply have a “Dr.” in front of their name. And, the instructions to delete or change information require someone to claim the profile and then open an account thereby giving FB even MORE information for their database. (In fairness, the person claiming ownership of the profile must be at the phone number listed in the profile for a verification call… but that still means the information remains posted).

    Allowing any 3rd party the right to access or create an account, profile, provide information, or post any information about another individual should be prohibited and, in my book, is a breach of privacy responsibility. If for no other reason, if FB allows privacy settings for an account holder to not publish certain information such as phone numbers, addresses, etc, it certainly should not allow by default the publishing of the same information about an individual without their knowledge or consent.

    FB is not a yellow pages directory… it is a social network. As such, one should, and must, be able to choose whether or not they want to be included. Granted, if someone includes information about another within their own blog, posting, or message information about someone else, that is difficult to stop and really cannot be monitored (unless abusive); but, the blatant www. posting / broadcasting of where someone lives and their home telephone number certainly should be stopped.

    Craigslist has had their name (and more) in the wringer over security issues. How is what Facebook doing by publishing non-account holder information any less of a security concern. It seems to me FB may have created a huge potential liability for themselves.

    This posting is in no way to discredit or minimize any benefits realized through voluntary participation with Facebook; rather, it is to raise awareness and concern improper “boundaries” being crossed in the name of promoting something that might be beneficial to some, but not all.

  4. Love this post. We now have Places in the UK – hate it and never would like to use it but for clients of mine I could understand why they would. However you have perfectly pointed out the drawbacks of safety and privacy.
    Never really liked Foursquare either and these tools are not on my list to push as a consultant. I see the fact the FB have tweaked their policies a very alarming thing.
    Thanks for the post!

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