Facebook Places Security Issues

Overeager Hong Kong Facebook users greeted the launch of its Places feature by making updates that allowed friends to know their whereabouts. A friend posted his Facebook Place update while on transit via MTR; he updates his location every time the train arrives at a certain station. I almost forgot about a long-time ex-colleague until his Facebook wall showed his recent affinity for Pages and broadcast his current location. Aside from those two friends, there are more who got hooked into this latest Facebook feature, and proudly announce they are in the lobby of a luxury hotel, an exclusive bar in town or in some place that may raise suspicion from family or friends. If that’s not enough, Facebook users can also tag friends in a certain landmark granted their privacy settings allow them to do so.


This new Facebook feature — one that rivals, or takes away opportunities from geolocation pioneers Foursquare and Gowalla — may invite users to reveal too much personal information, Roy Ko, a manager of Hong Kong Computer Emergency Response Team Co-ordination Centre, says. “It could allow some malicious individuals to deliberately and systematically gather particular users’ profiles, including how often they visit certain places, and their living habits,” he says.

Given that Facebook Places shares accurate detail of a location with the aid of GPS facility embedded on smartphones, Facebook profiles could become a wealth of resources that may translate someone’s shopping habits, dining lifestyles, and other personal behavior which can be used as segmented data for advertisers to target. Worse, it could be used by malicious individuals to deliberately gather user profiles which could put one at risk. Certain smartphone applications may be harvesting this information for other uses. Remember a site called PleaseRobMe that used to reveal the people (via their Foursquare updates) who have been somewhere aside from their homes — thereby inviting burglars for a possible sneak in?

While Facebook allows users to adjust privacy and security settings so only authorized friends can view a user’s whereabouts, not every one is savvy or concerned enough to care about this important to-do. Perhaps as among the first in the region to try and compare Facebook Places to well-known application pioneers, people in Hong Kong are curious what does it have in store for them. But sharing your Facebook Places update doesn’t always bring potential headache. In fact, it could win you deals or discounts. A coffee shop may use Facebook places within its profile page to determine who visits the most at a given period of time, and reward these repeat visitors.