The battle of the geo-APIs has begun! Loopt and Foursquare out to the early lead. Facebook hot off the starting line. Twitter revving its engines at the gate. Geo-location APIs are going to bring about a huge, cool shift in the types of mobile information services we can use, but they also present many serious privacy and safety concerns that need to be carefully managed. The “if you don’t have something to hide…” argument against privacy simply doesn’t cut it in the real world: life and relationships are complex. Sometimes privacy lets you just be alone when you want to be alone, other times it can save your life.

Don’t take it from me, take it from Sam Altman, founder and CEO of Loopt, who describes in an interview to Charlie Rose just how delicate the privacy implications of these technologies are. He even explains why it is important for these services to let you lie about your location.

So now that the geo race has begun, it’s important to pay attention to how each player respects your privacy.

Facebook released its “Places” feature recently, which allows users to inform others where they are. What you might not know is, this feature also allows your friends to tell the world where you are. In typical Facebook fashion, it isn’t immediately clear how to disable this feature. In fact, it takes a total of six clicks to protect your location privacy on Facebook.

Here are screenshots from my Facebook account so you can see how to change your settings.

August 20, 2010 It Takes 6 Clicks to Protect your Geo-Privacy on Facebook Edit Delete Tags Autopost The battle of the geo-APIs has begun! Loopt and Foursquare out to the early lead. Facebook hot off the starting line. Twitter revving its engines at the gate. Geo-location APIs are going to bring about a huge, cool shift in the types of mobile information services we can use, but they also present many serious privacy and safety concerns that need to be carefully managed. The “if you don’t have something to hide…” argument against privacy simply doesn’t cut it in the real world: life and relationships are complex. Sometimes privacy lets you just be alone when you want to be alone, other times it can save your life. Don’t take it from me, take it from Sam Altman, founder and CEO of Loopt, who describes in an interview to Charlie Rose just how delicate the privacy implications of these technologies are. He even explains why it is important for these services to let you lie about your location. So now that the geo race has begun, it’s important to pay attention to how each player respects your privacy.

Facebook released its “Places” feature recently, which allows users to inform others where they are. What you might not know is, this feature also allows your friends to tell the world where you are. In typical Facebook fashion, it isn’t immediately clear how to disable this feature. In fact, it takes a total of six clicks to protect your location privacy on Facebook. Here are screenshots from my Facebook account so you can see how to change your settings.

FB Privacy 1 FB Privacy 2 FB Privacy 3

  • Click on “Account”
  • Click on “Privacy Settings”
  • Click on “Custom”
  • Click on “Customize Settings”
  • Scroll down to the “Things others share” section
  • Click on the “Select One” box next to “Friends can check me into Places”
  • Select either Enabled or Disabled

Whether people want to let their friends share their location is up to them. There’s no problem in publishing information that you truly don’t mind being published. But it is critical that we create software, and a culture around that software, that make it easy for users to choose how their information is used and divulged, and to that end, six clicks seems a bit many.