Facebook Places is the newest app for Smartphone users that allows you to mark your current location on planet Earth. Similar to Gowalla or FourSquare, this geo-location service allow you to “check in” at a location and broadcast that information to other Places users.
Not only can you tag yourself at a current location, but your Facebook friends can tag you as well. Whether you check in yourself or are tagged by someone else, your location is published on your Facebook newsfeed.
Facebook Places is not an automatic tracker, broadcasting your location at all times. It only says where you are when you “check in” or are tagged by someone else.
Should this new application scare parents?
Fear of Predators
Since the creation of geo-location services, parents and Internet safety gurus alike have been concerned about whether this gives sexual predators an edge on tracking down victims. Technically speaking, yes. Children have been known to disclose their locations online to strangers (such as through chat rooms) only to result in classic instances of kidnapping. The same could happen with Facebook Places.
However, the vast majority of sexual predation cases are not like this. Most predators take time to develop relationships with their victims. Most cases involve multiple forms of contact with the minor (online communications, telephone, sending gifts or money, etc.). About 95% of cases do not involve the offenders trying to deceive their victims by saying they are their peers. Offenders are also typically open with their victims about their sexual intentions in their online communications.
Most predators “groom” victims through a process of flattery, sympathy, and investing time in their online relationships. In about half of predator cases, investigators describe victims as being “in love” with or having feelings of close friendship toward the offenders. Most victims meet with offenders more than once, some even choosing to live with them for a period of time.
The more likely danger is not a child being kidnapped by disclosing their location on Facebook Places, but a child using Facebook Places to arrange a meeting with a predator who has been grooming them. This means proactive parents should not merely be concerned about disabling Facebook Places on their child’s cell phone. Parents should be more concerned about whether their kids or their kids’ friends are susceptible to grooming.
At-risk teens are those who are willing to talk about sex online, post seductive pictures of themselves or others, or openly express an interest in romance. If you have questions about the grooming process or suspect your child might be a target, call the Cyber Tipline at 1-800-843-5678.
Changing Your Facebook Settings
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you are concerned that your child might misuse Facebook Places, remove this application from their phone. If you feel you cannot monitor their use of this app successfully, it is better to do without it.
You should also take time to make sure others cannot tag your child’s location using Facebook Places. Here’s a step-by-step guide to changing your child’s Facebook setttings:
1. Check in to your child’s Facebook account.
2. Go to the upper right hand corner and click on the “Account” menu. Click on “Privacy Settings.”
3. Under “Sharing on Facebook” click the “Custom” link, and then click “Customize Settings” in the next pane.
4. Look under “Things I Share” to find “Places I check in.” Set this to “Only Me.” You can also customize this further to only share this with specific people.
5. Also under “Things I share” is “Include me in ‘People Here Now’ after I check in.” Uncheck “Enable” to turn this off.
6. Look under “Things others share” and find “Friends can check me into Places.” Check “Disable.”
If you are helping your child adjust their settings, use it as an opportunity to teach them about online privacy. What other notifications can people see on your child’s Facebook account? Is it only their friends who can see their information? What can their friends’ friends see? Use Facebook’s privacy settings to prevent others from finding personal information you believe is important to hide.