MoD Advises Staff To Avoid Facebook Places

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The Ministry of Defence is warning military personnel not to expose their locations of Facebook

The Ministry of Defence is advising its military personnel not to use Facebook’s new location sharing service, Facebook Places, warning that it could increase the risk to their safety.

In a document obtained by The Register, the Ministry advises members of the armed forces to disable the application, lest it “inadvertently compromise the locality of a military user”. It warns that users on operations are potentially putting themselves at risk “by drawing attention to their exact whereabouts”.

“Social network sites already provide an extensive open source intelligence gathering tool,” states the document. “This application is almost creating a one stop shop targeting pack, which could potentially be used to target, military personnel, family and friends.”

It goes on to provide a step-by-step guide for disabling Facebook Places, but stresses that it is advising and not instructing personnel to disable the application.

Facebook Places ‘checks in’

Facebook Places, which launched in August, allows users to “check-in” via GPS at whatever location they are at. The app posts an update in their friends’ Facebook news feeds, as well as showing up in the recent activity section on the page for that place. Users can also view friends that have checked in nearby.

The MoD’s warning is likely to confirm the fears of privacy advocates, many of whom have already pointed out the potential risks of broadcasting one’s location on Facebook. It is not only military personnel who are putting themselves in danger, nor even just high-profile figures. Normal people are just as much at risk.

Last month, for example, it was reported that a burglary ring in New Hampshire had been using the geolocation features of Facebook to find out when people were away from their homes.

“Something like Places on Facebook broadcasts people’s locations on a platform that has 500 million users,” said Gareth Kloet, head of home insurance at Confused.com. “You don’t need to be an insurance provider to see the risk that poses.”

People here now

Facebook Places also offers a “People Here Now” section, allowing users to see others who have checked in at that place – whether they are friends or not. Users can control whether or not they appear in this section using their privacy settings, but this relies on users being savvy enough to check their selected preferences.

“We expect to see many situations where lack of experience of the users (or unclear information sharing with third party providers) will generate problematic situations for Facebook users and possible push back,” said Monica Basso, vice president of mobility and collaboration at analyst firm Gartner.

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