Facebook has entered into the next phase of its social network evolution with the addition of Facebook Places, a location-based social sharing feature. Facebook Places allows users to share with friends their current location, tag important places (“where I made my first text message”), and perhaps meet others who are near by. This feature leverages the current technology of “Check-Ins” by using the GPS location on the user’s phone. These location-based tools were previously only available on applications like Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, Twitter and Yelp! But having Facebook enter this location-based app market raises potential privacy and safety concerns.
While many are excited to see this next level for Facebook, there are a number of concerns about it will add to the already ongoing privacy issues with the service. Compared to Foursquare and other similar location-based apps, Facebook user’s typically provide far more personal details in the form of pictures, relationships, employment and educational data. Facebook has been plagued with issues over how to control access to users’ personal data. Facebook has attempted to resolve this by allowing users to set privacy levels for what they can allow their friends, friends of friends, or anyone else to see, regarding their pictures, profile, user information. However, all of us who use Facebook have “friends” who are not truly close friends, whether they be someone who asked for friending that we think we remember, or someone we met randomly through a common following. With the addition of your location being given to all of your “friends”, you are potentially exposing a greater risk.
Celebrities could be at a greater risk, as many have thousands of friends who are followers and fanatics.
Facebook has different levels of privacy control in place, and they have also enabled them in Facebook Places. The problem is that all users have been opted into the Facebook Places service, and it is up to each individual user to opt out or set their privacy level to something other than “Friends Only”, the current default. If a user wants to share their location with certain friends only, they must adjust their custom privacy level on that particular service and designate which friends in particular should not see their location, or which friend lists in general should not see their location. All of these settings are accessible under Account / Settings / Customize Settings / Places I Check Into.
Location based features are a great way to share impressions of a particular area, meet others in the same area and carry a GPS-stamped virtual diary of your life. The rewards of checking into more places than others and earning badges for most Starbucks visited are a great way to share while having fun. But when we share too much, we expose our family, friends and ourselves to a greater risk.