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Are Teens Broadcasting Their Mobile Location on Facebook?

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Are Teens Broadcasting Their Mobile Location on Facebook? Well, yes. Should parents be overly concerned? Not that much more concerned than having their teens use Facebook at all. Let’s back up. Over a month ago Facebook launched “Places,” a service where people can use their GPS mobile phones to “check in” to locations such as restaurants, concert halls, and schools. Once checked in, Facebook notifies other Facebook users that John Doe just checked in to “Potbelly Sandwich.”

Obviously, those of us in the online safety community are deeply, deeply concerned about nefarious use of a child’s physical location. Frankly, the thought is terrifying. Thus parents and social networking companies need to take the distribution of kids’ mobile location very seriously.

Now, for teen users (those under 18 yeas old) Facebook only allows their “Friends” to see the places they have checked into. Even if the teen foolishly changes their privacy settings to allow “Everyone” to see their information, Facebook automatically prohibits anyone but the teen’s friend from seeing their mobile location in the physical world. This is a positive privacy and safety measure by Facebook. However, this auto feature does not exist for those over the age of 17 who set their profile to “Everyone”

Of course, the teen’s safety and privacy really hinges on whether they trust those in her “Friends” list. As a general rule, parents should talk to teens about limiting their Facebook “Friends” list to only those they know and trust. If they don’t, none of their information is safe — especially their physical location.

More about Places can be found on ConnectSafely.org and on Facebook itself.

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