Facebook unveiled the new Places feature late yesterday and once again there is criticism for their lack of concern for users’ privacy. While the privacy controls for the new geolocating feature, which is only currently available in certain areas of the US, are not as dicey as the spring privacy overhaul, there are some features that don’t bode well for the social network.
Users can check-in to local establishments using their smart phones (currently the iPhone is the only device compatible with Places) to show others where they are, to see where friends in the area have recently checked-in and to see who was last at their current location. It seems Facebook attempted to learn from their privacy mistakes by setting the check-in default visibility to “Friends Only” so your current location isn’t broadcast over all of Facebook—unless of course you’ve set your master privacy control to “Everyone.”
On the surface it seems Facebook Places operates just like any other check-in application like Foursquare or Gowalla. But what sets it apart, for better or worse, is the ability to tag others. One person checking in to a local restaurant can tag all of the members of his group. The fact that someone else can broadcast where you are without your knowledge or consent doesn’t sit well with the ACLU. Furthermore, they find fault with the privacy controls stating “you are only given a ‘not now’ option (aka ask me again later). ‘No’ isn’t one of the easy options.”
Another major concern is the fact that all information gathered by Facebook Places is available to developers and third-party applications. And similar to the issues in the spring, you don’t always have control over what your friends choose to share about you. Your friends can choose to share their check-in information with applications and if you are linked to that info via a recent check-in at the same location or by being tagged in a check-in, your information is also shared with that application.
It does seem that Facebook made an effort to learn from the backlash against their last privacy overhaul and put more control in the hands of the users. There are controls that you can set for each level of privacy where check-ins are concerned. You can choose if you want to appear in the “People Here Now” section after you’ve checked in so others checking in can see that you were/are there and you can control if you want to share your own info with third party applications.
Overall, there are some issues but it seems users have control if they choose to exercise it. But if users are relying on the default settings to keep their information secure, they may be sharing more than they bargained for. Then again, if you can’t be bothered to check your privacy settings, maybe you shouldn’t bother broadcasting your whereabouts either.
What do you think? Is Facebook Places bordering on invasion of privacy? Or is it your responsibility to know what you’re broadcasting and how when you choose to get involved with this type of social networking?