Facebook Places – How to turn it off

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After reading my first post on this topic, many of my friends on Facebook came forward and asked me what they can do with their account settings to protect themselves and their children.  In this blog-post sequel, I will try to provide parents with somewhat of a solution, as well as address a few more concerns that I have with Facebook’s new GPS application, Places. 

As far as disabling the Places application, I learned a few things from my own research and from a friend of mine.  It turns out that there are a few things you can do to tweak your Privacy Settings and your Account Settings on your profile.  The following step-by-step guide is for those who want Places to be as non-existent on their profile as possible.  If you use Places but you want to customize who sees what, this guide will give you a general idea of where to look in your settings, but the customizing to your needs will be up to you.    

Privacy Settings:

Step 1 – Log in your Facebook profile => go to Account => go to Privacy Settings.

Step 2 – From this page click on the little blue link towards the bottom called “Customize settings” 

Step 3 – In the category “Things I Share” look for “Places I check in to” and click on the drop-down menu.

Step 4 – Choose “Custom”. In the box that comes up, under “Make this visible to” select “Only Me”.

This will make it so that in case you do ever “check in” on accident, with Places, the only News Feed it’ll appear on is yours.  (This is protection for you since Facebook doesn’t allow you the option to “disable” or to completely opt out of this particular feature of Places.)

Step 5 – In the same category, uncheck the box called “Include me in “People Here Now” after I check in

Step 6 – In the next category, “Things Others Share”, click on the drop-down menu next to “Friends can check me in to Places” and select Disabled.

Account Settings:

Step 1 – Go back up to Account  => go to Account Settings

Step 2 – At the top, click on the Notifications tab.

Step 3 – Scroll all the way down to the Places category and uncheck BOTH boxes. 

Step 4 – Click the Save Changes button below.

I tested these settings out by going to the Facebook application on my phone and checking in with Places.  It’s safe to say that it worked, as the only place my location showed up on was my own News Feed.  A couple of guys in the office who are friends with me on Facebook double-checked this and reassured me that they could NOT see my location on THEIR News Feeds. 

So parents, if you’re at all skeptical of Places for yourself, consider changing your settings.  And for your kids—especially the ones who are under 18—make sure they take full advantage of the option to change their settings.  Like so many news articles are pointing out, Places is a stalker’s dream application. And to make matters worse, Facebook makes your privacy settings and account settings “public friendly” by default, and Places is no exception. 

Concerns I have with the Places mobile application:

In the past, Facebook’s counter-argument for any privacy criticism has always been along the lines of “you can opt out of the feature” or “you can change your settings to suit your needs”.  Well, since we’ve already covered how you can do the latter, let’s talk about “opting out”. 

The thing with the Places update on the mobile application is that no one really knew it was coming.  The update doesn’t make it obvious that you’re installing Places as a new feature, so the only way to really opt out is to NOT update the application on your phone.

To top it all off, the first time you access the newly updated Facebook app, they make sure you know that Places has been added.  It’s literally highlighted and placed smack-dab in the center of the other icons leaving you with no other choice but to select it.  The application immediately asks to use your location via your GPS—an area where you do have the choice to say yes or no—after which it goes into the steps on how you can share your location with all of your friends and how to tag other people who are “with you”.

With all of this said, is the option to opt-out really that obvious?  It sure doesn’t seem like it.  I think if Facebook really wanted you to even consider opting out of this feature, they would’ve made the choice more apparent by starting with….offering us one!  But, again, just like with any feature they have, they encourage their users to make their information public for the sake of networking by embedding default settings that put your child’s safety and privacy at risk. 

In addition to the privacy risks that face your child if they use this feature, I found, through my test runs with Places, that users can easily jeopardize the privacy of their friends.  I say that because all they have to do is “tag” a friend as being in the same location as themselves.  I tested this out on a friend of mine in the office, and when she saw the status update on her wall she was totally confused.  She said, “What is this?  How did you put that on my wall?  And why does Facebook and all these other people know my location?!”  Of course, I explained to her it was only a test, but nevertheless, she was caught off-guard as to how I was able to pinpoint HER location via MY cell phone. 

Parents, this feature is only disabled in the step-by-step guide provided above, so make sure you share it with the parents of your child’s friends if you know them or if they’re friends with you on Facebook.  

In the end, I have many concerns, not only with this particular application, but with this type of technology.  Don’t get me wrong, I think GPS is one of the most amazing pieces of technology to land in the hands of the public in the last 20 years.  But I’m concerned that the technology is being abused with applications like Places.  It brings me back to the question I asked in part 1 of this blog: Is this kind of tool really necessary?  What good can come out of it?  But more importantly: what can you solve with an application like Places that you can’t already solve with text messages, Google Maps, email, status updates, or just a plain-old phone call? 

If you have an opinion on this—for or against—please share.  Let me know what I’m missing if anything.  And if you know of any other methods that parents can use to protect their children from applications like this, please share!    

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