How Facebook Places works
After you use your mobile device to "check in" your location (it relies on your mobile's built-in GPS), the location is broadcast on your FB Status Page and available to anyone with access to your Recent Activity.
Because this info is privy to your Friend network, in theory, Places may help prompt impromptu get-togethers: "Hey, Amy's at Starbucks on Front St: I'm going to drop by and have a latte with her!"
FB Places isn't revolutionary: Gowalla and Foursquare are two similar and older location-based apps. But with over 500 million users, privacy concerns reach new levels with Facebook Places. Here's why.
Safety and security concerns of Facebook Places
The main benefit and drawback of FB Places are one and the same: when you use it, everyone knows where you are.
"The service broadcasts your location to everyone on your Friends list. Most people wouldn't want to do that," says Terry Cutler a Montreal-based Internet security consultant known as The Ethical Hacker Guy.
Why? At the most innocuous level, because maybe your trip to Starbucks was to take a breather from work and read a magazine. And then suddenly, here comes your talk-a-mile-a-minute Friend...
But far more serious, says Cutler, are safety and security issues such as the potential for robberies and break-ins: "There's a huge wave of home burglaries that happen because a Friend or FB Connection sees you're away on vacation or away from home and the next thing you know, you come home to find the front door busted open," says Cutler.
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Also, for those who are trying to avoid abusive exes or stalkers, FB Places raises new privacy concerns. You may not include these undesirables on your Friend list, but what if they're Friends with any of your Friends?
Another downside of Places is the ability your Friends have to check you in, without your authorization. "You can check other people in at a location pretty much the same way you'd tag someone in a photo," says Cutler. Although the checked-in party has the option to decline, "there's a time gap until you do, so that unwanted people can see this event," says Cutler. (There's also the potential for career or relationship damage, if your prankster buddy or frenemy decides to check you into a sleazy club or motel, for example.)
How to make Facebook Places work for you
Facebook has been criticized for its lax approach to privacy. FB Places won't change that. "Places is enabled by default, so you have to go into your Settings to disable it," says Cutler.
As we all know, our Facebook Friends aren't the same as our real-life friends. In fact, many of us are Friends with people we've never even met. So when using FB Places it's crucial to customize your settings so only your real friends/Friends can access your "check ins."
"The first thing I'd do is prune my Friend list so I don't have vague Facebook Friends turn into awkward real-life encounters," offers John Pavkovic, a FB user in Toronto.
Here's a page Cutler recommends for step-by-step instructions.
Another option is to just not use FB Places. Pavkovic says meeting real friends/Friends can be as simple as using "basic social networking tools like phone, SMS, Facebook, Blackberry Messenger…and just plain running into people."
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