This is a follow up post to the one I wrote last week on the launch of Facebook Places, events and the future of check-ins.
After my post last week one of the first things people – and by people I mean normal people, those who don’t spend their time learning the nuts and bolts of social sites – asked me most was “what does this mean for privacy?”
This came in a range of forms, naturally: “will this help stalkers?”, “who the hell would want to have people know where they are all the time?” and “It’s not automatic is it? It’s just I go to… some places… I’d rather keep secret.”
The truth is that any evolution of location based services, and don’t mistake the fact that Facebook essentially setting itself up as the platform for this across the web is a massive development in the space, will result in a swathe of fears, misinformation and genuine security concerns.
MC Siegler summed up the oncoming storm of debate well just the other in this post on TechCrunch:
The countdown is officially on for the big Facebook location backlash. How long will it be? One week? Two weeks? We all know it’s coming, it’s just a matter of when. And that’s too bad because I think Places is actually pretty great — potentially.
…My point is that plenty of people right now are out there on the hunt for a way to show that Facebook Places is the devil. It’s an easy angle. You take something that already is a very sensitive topic: Facebook privacy — and combine it with another sensitive topic: location privacy. Boom. Match made in hell.
Obviously Facebook Places hasn’t launched here in Australia yet, but what I wanted to have a look at today is what you should be thinking about when it comes to privacy on Facebook, Foursquare and the web in general.
Facebook: Check your settings
One of the things you often hear is that people don’t understand their Facebook settings. In some cases, it’s understandable. Facebook hasn’t made changes clear and negotiating the menus can just be confusing – so why not get some help?
ReclaimPrivay.org have a very nifty tool – it’s a bookmark that you simply drag into your browser. Got to Facebook, hit the Scan button and voila. You can see what information is public, where you may have left holes in your defence and even change the settings right then and there.
Checking In = Think First
One of the thing that amazes me about services like Foursquare is the level of safety people think they have. Even when you check-in ‘Off The Grid’, the location will still appear on your Foursquare homepage. You know, the one that’s open to everyone on planet?
Working in an agency, I’m amazed that industry rags like Mumbrella, B&T and AdNews don’t keep a better eye on where key media types go during their days – surely an automatic script could be created to collect this data and cross-reference it for their purposes? Some time ago, when I was searching for a new role, I met with two senior people from a prominent Sydney agency at a café way outside my normal stomping grounds and we all checked in – there would definitely be enough info there to throw up a red flag in a tracking system.
Indeed you can do some really cool things with you location data:
That’s info for Sydney digital dude, Jye Smith, digital strategist at PR firm Weber Shandwick, and while Jye seemingly agreed to the service, and allowed it to be public, you can see the same data (whether he stays off the grid and whether you’re friends with him or not) by simply reading his Foursquare page.
So what should I do?
Well, you could take the approach of the folks behind scare campaign site, Please Rob Me, that tried to point out that revealing you’re not at home could be dangerous by aggregating public location data. Then again, most of us have jobs during the day, not to mention the fact that if you really wanted to rob a place watching it first for other people, alarm systems etc would be far more effective.
Essentially, I would suggest a number of steps for everyone using these services:
- Run the ReclaimPrivacy.org script above to test your Facebook settings
- Use the level of privacy that makes you comfortable but always lean towards being more conservative rather than less
- A good rule of thumb: don’t put anything on Facebook you wouldn’t want your Mum seeing. In fact this goes for most of the internet
- If you don’t want people to know where you are, don’t try and check in secretly using – just don’t check in at all
Remember of course that while Facebook haven’t been great in the past, much of this comes down to your own responsibility. Location based services will only offer more and more benefits to users in the years to come, but (at least for now) they can’t tell where you are if you don’t tell them.
What do you think? Are you concerned that as this sector grows that privacy will become harder and harder to keep a hold of, or do you think we’re on the upswing of demanding a right decide where our data goes?