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Facebook Places: What You Need to Know and How to Protect Your Privacy


On Wednesday, Facebook rolled out a much-anticipated new feature:  Facebook Places.  It's designed to allow you to "check in" to a location (restaurant, office, venue, etc.) to let others know you are there via a post in their newsfeed and the location's page.  This service has been available for a while with other social networking websites, such as Foursquare.

According to Facebook's blog post announcing the new feature, Facebook Places is designed to allow users with the Facebook iPhone app or access to the ability to "discover moments when you and your friends are at the same place at the same time."

And maybe some people will find this feature helpful.  At the same time, however, it doesn't take much imagination to realize that there could be some serious safety concerns when it comes to broadcasting your location on the web.  So we figured we'd give you the basics on what Facebook Places does and how, if you'd like, you can disable it.

How Facebook Places Works:  Checking in and Being Checked in by Others

Luckily, Facebook does not automatically check you in wherever you are.  You can voluntarily check in to a location by clicking "Check In" on your iPhone or other mobile device.  The kicker and cause for concern, however, is that your Facebook friends can check you in to places.  You will be notified whenever someone checks you in somewhere (and will be given the choice to opt in or out of the service the first time someone checks you in).  Still, it's possible for people to tag you as being in a location when you may not want that information available to others.

What Happens When You "Check in" or Are Checked in by Others 

When you click "Check In" on your iPhone or other mobile device, a list of locations near you will appear, and you will be able to select a place from the list or create a new place if your location doesn't exist on Facebook.  By default, there are three places within Facebook where your location will be available to other users:
  1. Your friends' newsfeeds.
  2. The location's page.
  3. The "People Here Now" section of the mobile app.  This section allows people checked in at a location to find who else is checked in at that location.
Disabling or Controlling Facebook Places

Luckily, you can control the degree to which Facebook Places publishes your location (or whether it does at all).  Lifehacker has posted a helpful article that walks you through the steps of disabling the option to check in to locations, the appearance of your profile in "People Here Now," and others' ability to check you in to places.

Again, some people may find Facebook Places helpful, and we're not here to say that it's a completely negative thing.  It's just that we think it's important to be aware of what information can be shared and of how to regulate the availability of that information.