Earlier this week, Facebook announced the launch of it’s new geolocation feature named “Places”. If you previously have been ignoring check-in mobile services like FourSquare, GoWalla, Yelp, and WeReward you might want to start paying attention RIGHT NOW! You see, Facebook has automatically enrolled you in their Places service and has gone one step further in risking your privacy by allowing your friends to check you in at a location without your permission.
Case in point: My sister lives in another state and, to demonstrate how easy it is to violate someone’s privacy with Places, I checked in at my local park and checked her in with me. Sure, she was several states away, but Facebook allowed me to tell everyone that she was there with me. Did she have to verify anything before it was posted to her wall (and mine)? No.
The park example is a pretty benign one, because I’m telling everyone that she’s somewhere where she isn’t. But, what if I were somewhere with her and she didn’t want anyone to know where she was? I could still check her in and violate her privacy without her permission. What’s worse is that her location isn’t just reported to her friends on Facebook….it’s reported to mine, as well.
So what’s the harm of Facebook letting me check in other people? Imagine my sister were divorced and her ex-husband had a habit of stalking her and causing trouble. She probably would have “unfriended” her ex-husband, but what if I were still friends with him? In this situation, I just told him where she is without her permission. There are lots of potential scenarios where the default privacy settings of Places are potentially dangerous. The worst fallout, here, is someone announcing the location of another person without their permissions to those that would take advantage of the information.
Unfortunately, the process of removing Places from your privacy settings is not an easy one. Follow the steps in this blog post and you should be able to lock down Places and make it a bit more secure…until Facebook changes something again.