Thursday, August 19, 2010

Facebook Places - You Don't Control Your Own Location

Facebook has introduced a new feature, places, that allows you to broadcast where you are currently located.  An interesting point that has been brought up by several people; by default, the user is not in control of their own location.
If you are signed up for places then any of your friends can tag you at any location of their choosing - whether or not you are actually there. Of course, there is supposedly a preference setting to disable this. But, I spent a few minutes looking through the FAQ and my privacy settings and all I saw was an option to restrict who could view my location.  I couldn't easily find an option to actually prevent others from tagging me. However, according to the FAQ you do have the option of looking for every instance of a friend tagging you and manually remove yourself each time :/

I think the argument about privacy and facebook has been beat to death. There really isn't anything left to say. By using facebook you are either consciously, or unconsciously, surrendering all of your data to someone or some advertising corporation.  However, this new "feature" adds a whole new level to the discussion.

What impact will location tracking have on people's safety?  How many users will quickly enable this new feature and continually broadcast their current location to the world?  Will users fake the location of others in order to lure someone to a particular place?

Facebook has thought of one scenario and added this information to their FAQ.

It's good to consider the impact on kids and the necessity for additional controls, but does restricting this information to only their friends actually do anything? The average facebook user will friend anyone they remotely know or have talked to long enough to exchange profile info. In reality, this restriction does not really accomplish much of anything. The average child on facebook will be sharing their location data with hundreds of their "friends"

The last thing to consider is facebook's track record on protecting data. How long will it be until advertisers find a way to pilfer this data from people? Or what about the next privacy setting overhaul which changes the defaults or makes it more difficult to control who sees your location data?

Geo tagging is nothing new. What is new is the integration of this technology with facebook - a company with a huge user base and a history of disregarding the security and privacy of users.

-Michael Coates