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Implied Consent

Facebook Places, Privacy and Implied Consent

September 17, 2010

Facebook’s new ‘places’ application has sparked another debate over privacy. The new feature, which arrived today for UK users, encourages people on Facebook to share their location with other members of the social networking site. Although those who do share their location with others choose to do so, there is a concern that encouragement to share information concerning your whereabouts pushes the boundary between openness and too much information. Also, if one of your friends uses Places, you could have your location revealed by them mentioning that they are in a location with you, while you may be quite unaware that this is happening.

Who are your ‘friends’?

No longer is it easy to protect your privacy; instead Facebook is encouraging you to broadcast as much of your personal information as possible to a network of your ‘friends’.  Although Facebook privacy settings enable you to control who sees what information, and the general idea is that only those on your friends list can see this information, the nature of ‘friends’ on social media and on Facebook is much different to friends in real life.

On Facebook a friend could be anyone from your best friend to an acquaintance you only just met. For the majority of people on Facebook, their friend list does not just include people they know well and can trust. Introducing Facebook Places encourages people to share their current locations meaning that everyone on your friend network can see where you are.

Location sharing

Location sharing is not a new phenomenon.  Websites such as Google, Foursquare, Gowalla and Shopkick also offer services letting people share their locations.  Companies such as Gap and Starbucks even offered free vouchers to those who checked in their location as being in their stores. However, only 4% of people in the US used these services, 80% of whom were men and 70% between 19 and 35.

Location sharing has still not hit the mainstream.  However with Facebook now introducing these services, given its 500 million users it could bring location sharing to the masses.

Privacy issues

Location sharing has huge privacy concerns. Letting Facebook know where you are could enable stalkers to reach you more easily, and it lets people know when your house is unoccupied.

Facebook stalking is a term used by younger generations, as Facebook enables people to look at what others are up to and to look through their photos. Now with location sharing, the term ‘Facebook Stalking’ could literally mean just that – physical stalking.

Implied Consent

On top of this, the privacy settings which come with the Places app imply that you consent to its features.  So Facebook has gone ahead and assumed your consent to something before you have had a chance to decide for yourself whether you want to opt in.

One feature of Facebook Places, which assumes implied consent, is the ‘people here now’ one. The standard settings automatically give your location whereabouts to not only your friends, but complete strangers who also happen to be in around the same place as you.  Also, as mentioned earlier friends can check you in places on Facebook. This is probably fairly harmless provided you trust your friends, but given the nature of friends on Facebook this might not be the case.

Opting Out

It is fairly simple to opt out of these two features.  However, in this information overloaded society people might not find out something is happening for months on end. They may not notice that they have been giving their consent to Facebook Places, and so they might not be aware that there was any need to opt out of anything.

Should Facebook really be implying consent without letting members know what the implications of this is? How accurate is it for Facebook to announce that “no location information is associated with a person unless he or she explicitly chooses to become part of location sharing. No one can be checked in to a location without their explicit permission.”


Once again, with the introduction of Places, Facebook finds itself the subject of widespread debate in relation to privacy concerns.

Really, when it comes to sharing personal information, Facebook’s respect for privacy will best be demonstrated if it  lets people opt-in, rather than them having to opt-out. This way no one could accidentally share information with the Facebook network without realizing it.