How to protect yourself from Facebook Places

Facebook Places
After earlier roll-outs in the USA and Japan, Facebook has now opened up its location-sharing service in the UK.

In a breakfast briefing in London, Facebook explained that the new service would make it easier for users to share where they were.

But hang on a minute – I don’t want to share where I am. And I don’t want other people to be able to share my location either.

I came back late last night after a few days away on a business trip, to find that my next door neighbour had been burgled. So I want to have total control over when (and if) my location is shared and who gets told my location.

What I certainly don’t want is Facebook once again assuming that I wish to have features turned on by default (in this case, some of the features of Facebook Places), and the onus to be on me to recheck my privacy settings.

Facebook Places - who can see you're checked-in to a location

And I don’t want friends to be able to “tag” me, checking me in to a particular location. Facebook, however, enabled that by default.

And I don’t want the applications, websites and games that my Facebook friends play to be able to access my location either. Again, that’s enabled by default.

I would prefer an opt-in approach for location-sharing services like this. After all, sometimes you don’t want folks to know where you are, and you don’t want others to reveal where you are either. Just ask anyone who has been stalked by a unwanted admirer.

But that’s not the way Facebook works – their approach is almost always to sign you up for things, and then get you to do the job of turning them off.

So, here’s my advice.

1. Enter your Facebook account’s privacy settings and choose “Customize settings”.

Under “Things I share” you will see an option called “Places I check in to”. It defaults to only sharing your location with your friends, but you can customise this to say “Only Me” for the highest level of privacy.

Facebook Places privacy setting

2. Just beneath you will see an option entitled “Include me in ‘People Here Now’ after I check in.” This is enabled by default, but should be disabled if you don’t want people who visit a location’s Facebook page to see that you are there, or for folks to be able to find you if they search for people nearby.

3. Now, scroll further down the “Things I share” page and you will find a section called “Things others share”.

Things others share

There is a setting here called “Friends can check me in to Places”. Click on “Edit Settings”.

Can friends check me in to Places? Facebook Places - friend tags

If you don’t disable this option then it’s possible for friends to mischievously tag you as being at a lapdancing club or STD clinic. But they could also unwittingly reveal your genuine location when you simply don’t want it to be shared.

4. Finally, your location can also be accessed by your friends’ applications, games and other websites. That’s certainly something I don’t want to happen – but Facebook has enabled it by default.

Enter your Facebook account’s privacy settings and choose the option to edit “Application and website settings” (it’s in the bottom left).

You’ll find you can then access the settings for “Info accessible through your friends” and can turn off the checkbox marked “Places I check into”. After all, you probably don’t want your friends’ applications scooping up your location information, right?

Facebook Places - applications and websites can access your location

Facebook Places isn’t the only area of Facebook that you need to be careful with, of course. We’ve published further advice about how to better secure other aspects of your Facebook privacy – which is well worth a read if you’re in any doubt.

And, if you want to learn more about security threats on the social network and elsewhere on the internet, you really should join the Sophos Facebook page.