Facebook's New "Places" option

Aug 20, 2010

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Donna Rice Hughes of Enough is Enough (enough.org) recently commented on Facebook's new geolocation service.

"In a news conference yesterday, Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook's new geolocation service, "Facebook Places".  This feature allows Facebook users to share where they are and with whom they are with in real-time from the user's mobile device.  As we have seen with any new technology or application available, these features can be used for good or for harm.

While geolocation based services are becoming very popular and can be used to connect with friends and local businesses in positive ways, parents should talk to their kids before allowing them to use this service or any of the other popular geolocation service.  If the teens using Facebook are 'friends' with people that they don't really know in the offline world, then posting their real-time location could open them up to being targeted by a stranger.  Parents and kids alike should understand that the "check ins" on Facebook are a choice, and any Facebook user can opt out of this service.  We would recommend that younger teens on Facebook opt out of using this service entirely. 

The "People Here Now" option included in "Places" shows users the other individuals who have checked into their same location, which could open a teen up to meeting other teens-which is not so scary-or adult strangers, who may or may not have best interests in mind.  We recommend that all teens using the "Places" service uncheck the "Include me in 'People here Now' after I check in" in their privacy controls. This is because currently, the default is set allowing this feature, and one must opt out of appearing to the other users at their location.  Case in point, we strongly recommend that Facebook change this feature to an "opt in" feature, meaning that default is set as "unchecked".  This would better protect users who haven't taken the time to familiarize themselves in full with the privacy controls available. 

We strongly recommend that teens utilize the most restrictive settings available through this service and their Facebook profile itself.  This will allow users to control whether and when they are tagged at a place, and who sees their location.  Parents and other adults concerned with child safety should be aware of the peer pressure that some teens might experience who choose not to use the feature in order to better protect their privacy and whereabouts.   Bottom line, parents are the first line of defense and keeping the lines of communication open between parents and their teens will be increasingly critical as new technologies and features on existing technologies continue to come to market at lightening speed. 

Parents who familiarize themselves with this application and the privacy options before allowing their teenagers to use Facebook "Places" will be able to make an informed decision as to whether to allow their teen to use this feature and if so, to better ensure it is being used safely."