The privacy pros and cons of Facebook Places


ANALYSIS Facebook was always going to come under heavy scrutiny from staunch privacy advocates when it launched location-tracking tool Places.

Considering the barrage of criticism Mark Zuckerberg's social networking giant has suffered before, it was unsurprising how many leaped on the opportunity to pick holes in the Places feature.

As much as FourSquare might not like it, Facebook's service is likely to be highly popular. But what has been done to ensure users' privacy is protected and what are the real concerns?

Impartiality is difficult to come by, so IT PRO has weighed up some of the pros and cons of Places privacy.

Privacy pros

The best place to start for anyone wanting to hear what Facebook has done to protect Places users is to go to the creator itself.

In a bid to prove it has taken the issue seriously, Facebook released a video describing what people can do to control their information on Places, with some "powerful, simple controls."

The first point is that Places is an opt-in service, not an opt-out one. This is even more so than for other Facebook services, as the user has to add the specific mobile device they want to be tracked.

"You choose whether or not to share your location when you check in at a place. When you check in, you can tag friends who are with you but only if their settings allow it. When you are tagged, you are always notified," Facebook's product manager for Places, Michael Eyal Sharon, explained in a blog.

Furthermore, only users' friends are able to see when someone visits or is tagged in a place, unless the user opts to use the Everyone' sharing button, or customises the settings to only allow a chosen list of people to view location information.

"When a friend tags you through Places, you will receive a notification on Facebook and on your mobile device. The first time this happens, you'll be given the choice to allow your friends to check you in to places," Sharon continued.

"You can always remove any Places check in or tag using your mobile device or on the web. It's like removing yourself from a photo tag. You also have the choice to turn off the ability for friends to check you in at Places."

Another boost to the feature's privacy credentials is that third-party applications can only access location data, if users give their permission.

For those who do not want to share check ins i.e. reveal their destination - with friends' applications, they just need to uncheck a box in their privacy settings under "Applications and Websites."

As for the Here Now' feature, which enables locations to have a Facebook page showing what users are present in that place, again users can simply opt in or out if they wish to do so.

Finally, for those users who have not signed up to Places, they will not be checked in at a given place unless they give permission and sign up to the service.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.