Caution: Should You Share Your Location on Facebook?

Facebook recently rolled out a number of changes to the social networking site. One of the changes eliminates the concept of Facebook Places, but instead incorporates location-aware updates at virtually every level of Facebook. You might want to think twice, though, before broadcasting your location to the anonymous masses online.

Facebook has had a Foursquare-like check-in system for its mobile app for a while. Facebook Places has limited functionality, though, intended primarily for logging in at restaurants and retailers, and it doesn't provide any means for someone with a notebook or tablet to record location data.

Facebook Places location information
Does your whole social network really need to know you're at McDonald's right now?
Maybe that's a good thing. Do you want your entire social network--including some tenuous relationships with people you have never actually met in real life--to know that you are with your family having dinner at The Olive Garden?

The security experts at nCircle offer two opposing, but complementary viewpoints on the privacy and security implications of sharing location information. Andrew Storms, director of security operations, and Tim 'TK' Keanini, nCircle's CTO shared some thoughts with me on this topic.

Storms warns, "You could be home for one post and then across town for the next. Now, everyone knows you aren't home and the brand new TV you just told everyone about is also home--alone," adding, "Posting this level of detail in any online forum opens the door to potential nefarious action."

He explains that the issue of privacy and location information is really a matter of common sense, and recommends that you stop and think "does everyone in the world--or even everyone in my social network--really need to know my location at a given point in time?"

From Keanini's perspective, it is delusional to think that you or your property are somehow safer just because you don't post location information. It is a sort of security by obscurity fallacy that might give an illusion of better privacy, but the fact is that location information like your home address can be found by other means, and you'd better have some real protection in place.

Keanini says, "Locks, alarms, neighborhood watch--all of those things help to protect your home. In my book, it's better to feel safe publishing your location because you know you have taken the appropriate safeguards than to be surprised by the disclosure of this kind of personal information."

This is a privacy decision unique to your personal situation, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. What's dangerous about all private data, including location data, is disclosing it without thinking through the implications. If you want to limit exposure of your location information, use the controls available within Facebook to limit the audience the data is shared with.

Storms sums up, "The moral of the story about location tagging is to think before you post."

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