Published in the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-abrahams/facebooks-nearby-friends_b_5179044.html
By Stephen Bryen and Rebecca Abrahams
Facebook has introduced a new feature for its mobile users allowing them to share their location with friends. It is an “opt in” feature, meaning you don’t have to sign up for it. So on the surface it seems to be a useful tool for people to use. Isn’t that right?
Actually, the new Facebook “feature” is pretty dangerous. It is sending your location information on a continuing basis into a network run by Facebook. Among the problems: your GPS is always on if you use this APP, meaning you can be followed by hackers, intruders or government agencies more or less at will. And Facebook itself, which is not a secure system, also can be targeted by the same folks.
Facebook has also revealed that it plans to share your Nearby Friends data with advertisers. It is far from clear if the opt in feature matters in collecting and sharing this information.
Social media are sometimes lots of fun, but they also leak a lot of personal information about your life, your relationships, your preferences, and your comings and goings which you may not want in untrusted hands. People who use these APPS seem to be oblivious to the risks. Yet, on a daily basis, we read about people being hounded and abused through social media. There are many cases of such abuse, and it has led to suicides in the U.S. and elsewhere.
People also forget that smartphones, tablets and PC’s are high risk devices –with the mobile smartphone leading the pack as the worst of the worst. Why? Because the smartphone has few, if any, safeguards against hackers. There are no firewalls or security barriers; anti-virus and other tools tend not to work on smartphone platforms, and marketing and advertising people in cahoots with telephone carriers are using the platforms as a way to access your information and influence you to buy products, vote for candidates, or convince you to support some opinion or another.
We are at an early stage of exploiting the marketing features of the smartphone. But, if I know where you are, what you ate and at what restaurant, whether you are in your car or on foot, where you work and where you live I have in my hands some really potent information that I can, and certainly will, exploit to the fullest. Maybe it is just a nuisance when advertisers barge into your life. But it has far greater consequences –a haven for crooks, criminals and pyschos.
Recently an iPhone update turned on the Bluetooth feature in all of the latest iPhone models. Why? Because Apple is now in the business of helping store owners flash messages to clients in the stores in proximity to a local Bluetooth transmitter. The reason: to push advertising. Say you are looking at a bicycle for your kid in a big outlet store. All of the sudden you get a “recommendation” on your smartphone: your kid will like a certain bike and it is safer than others. Would you pay attention? Most likely, yes, and that is what Apple and the store owners are shooting for.
But at the same time, now your Bluetooth is on all the time, just like the WiFi that is on all the time if you opt in with Facebook. Not only will this suck your battery dry, provide critical information on your location and on your behavior, but it also leaves your phone wide open to hackers.
Nothing on the horizon is going to stop the exploitation of personal privacy now in high gear in our country. Our courts have stepped aside and, in fact, condoned our government ripping off our phone’s metadata, forget about the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Google has anounced that it not only scans all your emails, but in face you grant it a world-wide license automatically when you send anything, especially any attachment, through their Gmail system. Now Facebook wants to make sure that you keep your GPS humming so your location can be tracked all the time.
The gradual and sometimes voluntary surrender of personal privacy is increasingly dangerous not only for personal security, but in the end, to the preservation of our rights and freedom. The latest Facebook “feature” is a step in the wrong direction.