Facebook Places launches amid continued privacy concerns

Friday, September 17, 2010

Geo-location tool allows users to 'check-in' each other

Phil Muncaster, V3.co.uk 17 Sep 2010

Facebook launched its Places geo-location feature in the UK today, but the social networking site is still fighting off criticism related to privacy concerns.

The company has made the functionality accessible to UK users via the Facebook iPhone application and on touch.facebook.com after the US launch last month.

Facebook Places essentially allows users to instantly log where they are via GPS, and display the results on Facebook in a manner very similar to Foursquare.

People using the Places application are also asked to tag any 'friends' that may be at the same location, as with Facebook Photo.

However, privacy concerns persist over the default settings associated with the new tool.

Rik Ferguson, senior security advisor at Trend Micro, noted that it is possible for people to tag friends in their own check-ins, meaning that an individual could be 'checked-in' without their consent.

Users can prevent this by altering their privacy settings, and are notified after the effect with the option to remove the tag. However, the default settings appear to enable checking in by friends, and represent a "risk to individual privacy", according to Ferguson.

"If Facebook persists in allowing check-ins by third parties it needs to ensure that the information is not made public until it has been agreed to by all people identified," he said.

"Otherwise it means that anyone with an interest in the location of their friends, colleagues, partners even ex-partners simply needs to become a friend of a friend, or just frequent the same places, and Facebook will do all the espionage for them."

The concerns echo those made by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California when the tool was launched in the US last month.

"Facebook makes it very easy to say 'yes' to allowing your friends to check in for you. But when it comes to opting out of that feature, you are only given a 'not now' option. 'No' isn't one of the easy options," said a statement from the organisation.

"And if you use Places yourself, you aren't even given a 'not now', you're just told that friends are able to check-in for you and left to discover for yourself that you can change this setting by digging into your privacy controls. "

Facebook released a video soon after the US launch of Places designed to teach people how to change their privacy settings to avoid being checked in by others. First time users also receive an alert asking whether they would like to be checked in.

This article was printed from the V3.co.uk web site

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