|Using Facebook Places Privacy Controls|
By Larry Magid
Facebook’s privacy settings enable users to customize who sees where you are.
In designing its new Places geolocation service, Facebook seems to have learned from its past privacy blunders. The new service has multiple layers of privacy control, but as with other aspects of Facebook privacy, users need to put some thought about whether and how they want to disclose their location. Facebook has also created an extra level of privacy for its under-18 users, prohibiting them from displaying their location to anyone other than their friends.
The first thing to know about Places is that it’s not fully automatic. You have to “check in” or be tagged at a location for Facebook to display where you are. Because location is a particularly sensitive issue, Facebook, by default, shows only your location to people designated as friends, even if you have more open privacy settings for posts or other types of information.
Check-in vs. tagging
You can be outed, if you don’t disable friends’ ability to check you in
Even if you don’t agree to those terms, and even if you’ve never used Places or don’t even own a mobile phone, any Facebook friend can tag you as being at the location, and who sees that information is subject to that person’s privacy settings, not your privacy settings.
Facebook representatives are quick to point out that this is the same as with any form of tagging, such as in status messages and photos. It has long been possible for a Facebook friend to type “@LarryMagid is with me at Anotnio’s Nut House.” The difference with Places is that it makes it a lot easier, and you no longer have to type in the location because Places knows where you are.
You can opt out of being checked in or tagged
For a friend to tag you, that person must be checked into the same location, so it’s not possible to “out” someone for being in a place that you’re not checked into as well. You get a push notification, if someone has checked you in or tagged you, but if you’re in a noisy bar and don’t check your cell phone, you might not know it right away.
Options on who can see where you are
A Facebook representative said “seeing the people checked in to a location is consistent with the experience of seeing people there in real life.” You can, however, opt out of participating in “Here Now” via your privacy settings.
Special provisions for “minors” (under 18)
How to configure settings
To the right of where it says “Places I check in,” it probably has the default setting of Friends Only. You can change that by selecting another option, including Customize, which lets you further limit who can see your location to specific people, lists of people, or even “just me.” You can also opt out of “Here now” by unchecking “Enable.”
Below the “Things I share” section is a section called “Things others share,” and this is where you can disable “Friend can check me into places.”
Think about disabling the ability for others to “check you in”: If you don’t want to give others the ability to check you in, now is a good time to disable that option.
Even if you don’t use Places, remember that you can be tagged, unless you opt out. If you are concerned about your friends’ ability to use Places to reveal your presence at a location, configure your privacy settings to disable “Friends can check me into places.” That also disables their ability to use Places to tag you.
Consider using lists to limit who can see your location: You don’t have to stick with Facebook’s default that allows all your friends to see where you are when you check in to a location. Consider creating a “list” of friends with whom you wish to share your location. You might have different lists, depending on location. For example, you could have “drinking buddies” who get to know which bars you’re in and “work friends” who can see if you’re visiting certain business-appropriate locations.
Ask before you tag: It’s a good idea to talk with your friends before you tag them at a location. Being comfortable about your friends knowing that you’re there doesn’t necessarily mean that your friends feel the same way.
Revisit your settings: If you are allowing people to check you into places, consider changing those settings, if you are about to go to a place that you don’t want others to know about. You can always change your settings temporarily and then change them back.
Talk with your kids about location services: Parents should discuss with their kids how they might use or avoid location-sharing services. Kids need to be reminded that “checking in” reveals their location to everyone on their friends list, including people they might not wish to share their location with.
Disclosure: Facebook provides financial support to ConnectSafely.org, a nonprofit Internet safety organization where I serve as co-director. ConnectSafely also serves on Facebook’s Safety Advisory Board, which was briefed on Places in advance of the announcement and advised the company on safety features for minors.
ConnectSafely co-director Anne Collier posted more Places safety advice for parents.