By Dameon D. Welch-Abernathy, CISSP, Check Point employee, a.k.a. PhoneBoy
Facebook recently introduced a new feature called Facebook Places. Using your GPS-enabled Smartphone, you can “check in” to a physical location to let your friends know where you are. Competing services like Foursquare and Gowalla have offered this capability for a while now, and include the ability to post these check-ins to services like Twitter and Facebook. However, what Facebook has done that the others have not is provide the ability to check your friends in (or tag) to a particular place.
Before you completely panic, let’s be clear what this means. Your friends can only check you in from certain GPS-enabled handsets (currently the iPhone, Android, or any handset that supports HTML5 with Geolocation). They can only check you in places they themselves are physically at or near. The problem is, these check-ins are stored in Facebook and can potentially be accessible to third-party applications you or your friends use!
While I myself use these location-based services, I don’t use them all the time. I do tend to use it more when I am on the road because I do want to let people know I am alive and I want to increase the chances I will run into a friend. That being said, I am not personally comfortable with the idea that someone else can check me in someplace in a way that is easy for other applications to make use of!
Of course, there are those who are, quite simply, not comfortable with any of this. The good news is that Facebook provides a way to turn these features off. The bad news is that they are on by default and you must explicitly disable them.
First, go to Account then click on Privacy Settings in Facebook:
Next, choose Customize Settings:
From here, look under Things I Share. If you want to opt out of Facebook Places, set Places I check in to to be Only me and uncheck the box Include me in People Here Now after I check in. Otherwise, adjust these settings as you see fit.
On the same screen, scroll down to Things others share. If you do not want other people to check you in someplace, then set this option to Disabled as it is enabled by default.
Finally, you should set the permissions on third party applications on Facebook to prevent them from accessing any location-related information. This can be done by clicking on the Back to Privacy button and click on the Edit your settings link under Applications and Websites.
Make sure to uncheck the Places I check into option and click Save Changes.
If you have set these settings to their most restrictive, you have opted out of Facebook Places as much as you can.