No doubt about it, the guys at Stalqer must love the news this week: Facebook just made their jobs easier and much more interesting. This week the Wal-Mart of social media (Facebook) launched their “Places” feature in a gambit to enter the location-based “check-in” craze (combining it with a couple of other lifestyle social media tools they’ve weakly imitated into their corporate cover for data collection and resale). It was hailed by tech blogs who love special personal invitations and will blow polar bears for press access — but it may be the first time a social networking feature has been introduced and been immediately received with a combination of blogger blowjobs and a serious reaction of outrage and disbelief from the ACLU (link: ACLU’s Places statement, aclunc.org). Immediately, helpfully (but only for those who know about it), Read Write Web published this step-by-step walkthrough to at least help users of the social media site to find the multiple places in their accounts where you can disable some (but not all) of Places ability to reveal, or to fake, your location at any time.
Ars Technica’s Jacqui Cheng writes,
(…) Several privacy advocates say that the settings are unnecessarily complex and that users could have certain personal info exposed without their consent.
“There is no single opt-out to avoid location tracking; users must change several different privacy settings to restore their privacy status quo,” the Electronic Privacy Information Center said in a statement on its website. The organization also notes that it and many other consumer privacy organizations still have complaints pending with the FTC over Facebook’s “unfair and deceptive trade practices, which are frequently associated with new product announcements.”
Indeed, there are multiple settings (that are not all grouped together) in which a user must specify his or her preferences when it comes to Places, making it slightly more confusing than necessary. However, there’s one Places-related situation that is not even controllable via settings, and could expose people’s addresses to the world. (…read more, arstechnica.com)
Not all bloggers swallowed the problems with Facebook Places wholesale — at the press announcement some bloggers decided to take Facebook to task out of the starting gate for overlooking glaring privacy issues. These issues (which could prove dangerous for, say, women coping with domestic violence and/or stalkers) were already present for users with the services Facebook proudly partnered with, namely FourSquare and Gowalla. The first question for Zuckerberg, his lead engineer, and the FS/G heads was from indie blogger, podcaster and Slide employee Rod Begbie, who simply wanted to know how to get his home address off the service if someone else put it online on Facebook. Not only was he passed off, the engineer lamely told him he could try to get people to “flag” it for review and deletion, and in the video, we can audibly hear one of the guys from either FourSquare or Gowalla expressing annoyance at the question.
Here’s the video; this is a link to the transcript where Rod Begbie comments, explaining exactly how the Facebook engineer lied to him in the video.
The “venues” (addresses/locations added and created by users) are not only visible to friends, they are in fact, publicly visible… Oh, if only Facebook was as fast and efficient as an online stalker.