Facebook Places… Is your exact location available to all?

I spent sometime this morning on Facebook, and one of my friends popped in with the following status post:

launched Facebook Places. Anyone can find out whereyou
are when you are logged in. It gives the actual address & maplocation
of where you are as you use Facebook. Go to"Account", "Account
Settings", "Notifications",…… thenscroll down to… …"Places"
and uncheck the 2 boxes. Make sure to…SAVE changes and re-post this!!!"

Needless to say I was curious… Was Facebook once again exposing an individuals privacy (his or her exact location – often exposing a home location, exact address, including a map) as a default setting as opposed to an "opt-in" format.  This "sharing" of location data is also present in the latest mobile updates to the Facebook apps on various smartphones as well.

Facebook Places was enabled to allow "friends" to openly share their locations with each other to compete with quickly rising companies like FourSquare and others that helped to launch the "check-in" revolution in social networking.  I know where I am maybe someone I "know" is near me or at the same event.  On one hand this is a pretty cool feature, on the other it can be a person's nightmare if they are in a stalking situation, or worse if a predator is looking to capitalize on knowing a person's exact location at any time of the day or night.

Here is Facebook's popup message when you start drilling into your privacy settings on the Facebook site via a web browser:

Taking a few minutes to continue to drill into my "Places" privacy settings by clicking on "Account>Privacy Settings>, here is what  saw:

Dock-1Well, at least Facebook only defaulted to allowing my "Friends" to see my exact location…

Drilling in a bit more by clicking on "Customize settings" you see these choices:


Here are your "choices" if you click on the "Friends Only" drop down:

and if you click "Customize" here:

Interestingly, I cannot figure where to say not to use this "feature" of Facebook… although, I guess that would be "Only me"…

On the positive side, if you begin typing in the box next to "Hide this from" you get a drop down that begins to populate from your "Friends" list.

Dock-5I do think that it is interesting that you cannot select an entire group or "list" to exclude, but it is better than nothing.

That said, most often a person is going to be leveraging a mobile device when "checking in" on Facebook Places.  So, let's take a look at what that might be like…

Let's start with the best part at least for an iPhone user – If there are Droid or BlackBerry users out there, let us know if it is this easy to disable Facebook Places on your device.  Because of the iPhone's Opt-IN policies (take a hint Facebook), the first time you attempt to access Places you see the following two screens:

and the best message:

If you do not want Facebook Places to ever be gathering location data while using your iPhone Facebook app, simply choose "Don't Allow" and your iPhone will not allow the app to access your location data.  That said, you can always re-enable this feature by going into Settings>General>Location Services, and moving the Facebook slider to the "ON" position.

Let's say you would like to "Check in", here is what that looks like from your side:

First click on the Places map pointer icon on the right side of the "What's on your mind?" Then typy your message:

Type your message and click "Share" additionally, you can change who your Places check-in will reach by clicking the lock icon:

Here is what it looks like when you have friends who are using Places check-ins:

FIrst you see a list of your friends who have checked in recently.  Tapping on their check-in provides more information:

Tapping on the map gives you a more exact location:


Ok, so, what are the goods and bads about Facebook Places?

The Goods:

  • From what I can see, while Facebook ONCE AGAIN defaults to bring you  into their new invasive services, giving you the option to "opt-out" as opposed to having it be an "Opt-in" feature, Places at first blush does not reveal your location until you choose to "Check-in". This is very similar to how Twitter handles location services, or FourSquare, or the other check-in services.
  • While it is more convoluted to "Opt-out" from the main Facebook site, opting out via a mobile solution is as simple as disabling the Facebook apps location services.
  • A manual process for checking in appear the only way for Places to track your location.
  • It can be fun to be at a large event and connect with friends and family when you had no idea they were even there.

The Bads

  • Once again, Facebook is automatically bringing their entire userbase (in this case US only for now as Europe and other world locations have MUCH stricter privacy laws) into a "feature" that potentially could compromise an individual's privacy and safety.
  • Facebook's Privacy Settings and the was to disable a "feature" remains convoluted and much harder than it should be…
  • Even though I have enabled Places on my iPhone and used the service to check in a few times, there is no visual indicator on my own profile page or newsfeed that I have broadcast my location… might just be me as friends of mine are checking in and I can see and verify their locations easily.

I am going to be playing with Places over the next few days.  It would have been fun to have written this before I went on a date with my wife last night in downtown Chicago.  Especially for my fleeting meeting with fame… But that is a different post.

Sound off here: what do you think about Places? Are you going to be using it? Should Facebook even have enabled it?


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