2 steps to disable Facebook Places (and the reasons why you need to)

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Yesterday afternoon, Facebook finally unveiled Places, the social network’s long-anticipated location-based feature set. At first blush, Facebook has given us the bridge between Gowalla, Foursquare, Yelp and Booyah we’ve been waiting for but — as is often the case with Facebook — there are some none-too-subtle privacy consequences. The ACLU of Northern California has a few critical warnings to pass along before you put Facebook Places into play.

Here are the critical Facebook Places privacy takeaways:

  • Once you start using Places, all your friends can check you into locations
    If you activate Places, your location will only be displayed to people on your friends list. Unfortunately, it will be displayed to all the people on your firends list; there are no granular controls. Moreover, once you join Places, all your friends can check you into a location — just like they tag you in photos right now. Shopping for that surprise birthday gift? Better hope your best friend doesn’t tag you at your spouse’s favorite store.
  • Your friends can check you into Places even if you don’t use it
    There is no “don’t let my friends check me into places” option. You can only deny a specific check-in, so the buddy that tags you in every photo he uploads can now annoy you twice as often by tagging you into Places repeatedly, too. If you agree to let friends check you into Places, it’s a blanket permission. You can’t trust your spouse and not trust your gabby friend. It’s all or nothing.
  • “Here Now” data goes to everybody
    “Here Now” is a function that displays which of your friends is (or has recently been) at a Place you just checked into.  If you have any Facebook privacy setting anywhere set to share with everyone, your “Here Now” data will be broadcast to your entire friends list, so expect to be accosted at your favorite coffee shop.
  • Facebook Places share location data with other apps
    The whole point of Facebook Places is to allow advertisers to hit you with location-aware advertising and communications. Unless you explicitly opt out of the functionality, expect coupon targeting from the moment you start checking into Places.

That’s the bad news. Here’s how to make Facebook Places as private as possible (quoted from the ACLU’s DotRights resource page):

Adjusting Check-In Visibility, Turning “Friend Check-Ins” and “Here Now” Off

  1. Go to your privacy settings page and select “customize settings.”
  2. Select the Places settings.
  3. Enable Places? (You may need to enable the product before you can change your settings.)
  4. Adjust your settings:
    a. To adjust who can see your check-ins, use the pulldown next to “who can see my location.”
    b. To disallow friend check-ins, uncheck the “Allow friends to check-in” box.
    c. To disable Here Now, uncheck the “Here Now” box
  5. If you want, disable Places.

Preventing Your Friends’ Apps From Receiving Your Places Info

  1. Go to your privacy settings page and select “edit my settings” under the “Applications and Websites” title.
  2. Select “edit settings” next to “info available through my friends.”
  3. Uncheck the Places check-in box.

Facebook has the critical mass to make Places the dominant player in useful location-based services. Unfortunately, they also have a history of sketchy privacy practices. Hope you’ve got a backup plan.

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