Can I Stalk You? An Intro to Location-Based Service Security

Have you been invited to use Foursquare or Gowalla? Or has one of your friends checked you into a restaurant or a club using Facebook Places? Congratulations, you’re now on the new frontier of social media: location.

Location-based services are sites available through mobile devices that use your exact geographical location to connect you to friends and businesses.

So now you have to decide: Do I need everyone to know where I am?

Okay. Maybe you aren’t letting “everyone” know where you are. Many services limit your information to your friends. But when you share your information with a network, you’re trusting everyone on that network to protect your privacy. So there’s always the potential when using location-based social media that someone you don’t want to see could find your exact location.

Background on Location Services

Google Latitude, which allows you to broadcast your location twenty-four hours a day using GPS  (global positioning system) technology, has been around for more than a year. And once it got over some initial privacy concerns, it basically became another one of Google’s innovative yet obscure services that not too many people use.

To date, only 4% of Americans have tried one a location-based service, and only 1% use one on a weekly basis, according to Gartner. People are not showing much interest in leaving digital breadcrumbs wherever they go.

So why do you have to decide now if you’re ready to start sharing your location?

First of all, more and more people are getting GPS -enabled smartphones. This makes cool apps like our free Anti-Theft for Mobile possible, and it makes it easy to broadcast your location. And more importantly, Facebook is getting into the location game.

How Will Facebook Places Change Your Life?

Facebook Places is now live in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, France, Italy and Australia and has already sparked so much interest in location-based social networking that its competitor Foursquare just passed the 4,000,000 registration mark, which means it’s only 546,000,000 users behind Facebook.

With a user base of more than half a billion active users around the globe, Facebook intends to push location networking into the mainstream. It also has added another level to these types of services by allowing users to check their friends into locations. And of course, this could allow for some mischief.

The Potential for Mischief

Using Places, your Facebook friends could check you into places you shouldn’t be like a bar during your lunch hour. That could be a problem with your boss.

But this potential for mischief is inherent in Facebook. Your friends can already lie about you in status updates. Even worse, any of your friends could also easily tag your name in an embarrassing photo you may or may not be in.

(To prevent anyone on Facebook seeing you tagged in friends’ photos and videos you may not approve of, go to “Privacy Settings”>  “Customize Settings”> “Photos and videos I’m tagged in”> “Customize”> “Only Me”)

The best way to minimize risk whenever you’re on Facebook for any reason is to keep your friends list limited to the people you really trust. (If you need a fan club I’d suggest a Facebook fan page. That way you can broadcast Twitter-style without having to worry about sharing personal information and media with strangers.)

Get Your Settings Right

Facebook Places is perfect for two types of Facebook users: Those who have no fear about sharing the most intimate details of their lives and those who have mastered the privacy settings.

No matter who you are, Places should force you to take a good look at who is on your Facebook friends list. Facebook Places is at its safest when you share your location with the people you really trust. And if you don’t know and trust everyone you’re connected with, you need to control exactly who has access to your information every time you post.

Here’s some good advice from a Facebook representative about how to use Places:

“I would recommend creating friend lists to separate people you really trust from others. Then, use the publisher privacy control to send status updates to appropriate groups (and only them). I actually think it may make sense to tell people you really trust that you are gone through Facebook just as you would in person. Then, they can watch your place for you, feed your cat, etc… As for everyone else, if you wouldn’t tell them in person you were leaving town, you probably shouldn’t use Facebook to tell them. As always, we also recommend people only accept friend requests from others they actually know.”

You may want to start by limiting your Places to friends only. Go to “Privacy Settings”.  You can either set all of your “Sharing on Facebook” settings to “Friends Only” . Or click on “Customize Settings” and set “Places I check into” as “Friends Only”.

On this page (“Account”> “Privacy Setting”> “Customize Settings”), you can also decide if you want your friends to see you in a location’s “People Here Now” after you check in that location.

If you click the box to enable “Include me in “People Here Now” after I check in” you’re making it easy for your friends (and strangers, depending on your settings) to find you. Being found is kind of the whole point of places.  And it can be fun if you are open to being contacted by everyone on your friends list. The average person on Facebook has 130 friends and growing. That’s a long list to consider every time you check into a place.

That’s why Facebook and I recommend organizing your friends into lists and only sharing with the people you trust most. You can create lists of people you share with when you’re in town, and those very trusted people you share with when you’re on vacation. But you have to remember to limit your publishing settings every time you check into a place.

To publish your location only to specific people or a specific list, click on the button with a lock next to the “Share” button.

Select “Customize”.

Then select the list friends you want to share your location with. Again, you’ll have to repeat this every time, until Facebook comes up with a “Make this my default setting for Places” check box.

Are You Broadcasting Your Location Now Without Even Knowing It?

The website ICanStalkU.com is trying to make people aware that many smartphones are automatically tagging photos with location data.

You can turn off location tagging on your phone, using ICanStalkU’s handy guide.

The Potential for Physical Danger

Most of us were brought up to be deathly afraid of strangers being able to find us. So you are probably wondering: could using location-based services be dangerous?

It’s possible to imagine a scenario where a stranger could stalk you using the data you’re sharing on Foursquare or Facebook Places. But if you’re using Facebook at all, especially without practicing safer Facebooking, you’re making a stalker’s life easier.

USA Today’s Kim Komando describes a scary real-life scenario. Using Foursquare, a stranger found and contacted a woman as she was eating dinner in a restaurant . That’s the kind of scenario most of us would like to avoid.

If you have any concerns about being profiled or stalked, be very careful about any sort of geolocation services, and social media in general. A recent case suggests that, at least in the U.S., restraining orders are valid in cyberspace. But “better safe than sorry” is a good mantra to repeat while using the mobile Internet.

If you’re living in Mexico City where kidnapping occurs at “alarming rates“, using a service that broadcasts your exact physical situation would be insane. However, if you’re living somewhere where you feel safe in general, geolocating probably won’t add any more danger into your life than any social network would.

If that’s worth the risk of running into someone you didn’t want to see, give it a try. But don’t expect Foursquare to protect your privacy. Here’s a good source of information on how to secure your “check-ins” for Foursquare. You can these basic privacy concepts—like checking in to a destination as you leave—to most any location service.

If you’re an adult who is smart about what you share online, there aren’t many new security risks inherent in using location services. It comes down to this: if in the pit of your stomach you feel any concern about making your location known, don’t do it.

Property Theft

You may have heard about a crime ring in New Hampshire that allegedly targeted more than 50 victims based on their Facebook postings.  It’s a scary revelation that’s easy to sensationalize. The truth about this case is that the victims in this case were friends with the alleged perpetrators. And the victims were not using Facebook Places.

However, F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan points out that a thief is going to learn a lot more staring at your driveway than at your Facebook page. By using a location service you are making your schedule public, but you’re hopefully not publishing an exact record of who is at your home at any given time. The bad guys may know you’re out, but they don’t know who else is home.

It’s true.  Facebook has been used to facilitate crimes. But the same could be said for the white pages.

Again, Facebook becomes most dangerous when you “friend” people or make information available to people who you may not trust. Social networks make it easy to connect with people from your past or people who you’d never meet. Your information is only as safe as the most questionable member of your network.

Privacy

What you probably think most when you think about privacy is: How will this affect my ability to get a job I want?

Do you need your next boss to know that you at Taco Bell 5 times in March? Will being the “mayor” of a local pub help you during salary negotiations?

Will employers ever check applicants Foursquare accounts. Maybe not. But if they may well check your Facebook page, unless you’re in Finland or possibly Germany. And there they could find your Facebook Places data, unless you’ve carefully set your privacy settings.

This is something you need to think about before you start publishing your whereabouts. While most services intend to limit your data to your chosen friends, there is always a possibility that your social media data can go public.

The privacy of young people is a much more serious concern. Children with cell phones need to be instructed on how to use location-based services safely, if at all.

Experts have said that said teenage girls are most likely to be the victims of cyberextortion. Not too surprising. “Jailbait” websites specialize in gathering provocative pictures of young girls, which may or may not have been posted by the girl herself.

What if your child’s pictures ended up in a lurid site like that with the location information tagged to the image? That’s a privacy problem that could escalate into something much more dangerous. So let know your children know how to disable the geotagging settings on your their phones now.

Conclusion

We are at the dawn of a new era in social networking. Perhaps in a few short years we’ll all know where everyone is all the time. And as that happens, you know that the bad guys will come up with ways to use this technology against us. But for now, it’s a new frontier that might be worth exploring. Perhaps location-based fun will add  layers to your life you never imagined, the way Facebook and Twitter have.

Or you just may want to check out. Disable Facebook Places now and forget that you ever were invited to join a location-based service.

CC image by: David Fisher

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In what color would you like your new Mercedes?

A new Mercedes. Nice. Or maybe an Audi R8? That would be cool. But hold it! Don’t sell your old car yet! Liking and sharing that giveaway campaign on Facebook will NOT give you a new car. Those prizes doesn’t even exist. They are just hoaxes. Internet and Facebook is full of crap, junk, rubbish, nonsense and gibberish. Nobody knows how many chain letters there are spreading some kind of unbelievable story. False celebrity news, bogus first-aid advice, phony charity campaigns and this kind of giveaways. We tend to think about these chain letters as hoaxes, pretty harmless jokes that doesn’t hurt us. But that’s not the full story. A hoax can be harmful, like the outright dangerous first aid advice that some people keep spreading. But a car giveaway is probably a harmless and safe prank, even if it’s false? No, not really. These chain letters are actually not traditional hoaxes, they are like-farming scams. There’s no free lunch, you don’t pay for Facebook with money but with your private data. The like-farming scams work in the same currency. You will not lose any money even if you like the page and share it. Instead you will participate in building a page with a lot of supporters, which is valuable and can be sold later. Needless to say, you will not get any of that money. Here’s how it works. Any business has a problem when starting on Facebook. An empty page without likes isn’t trustworthy. So the scammers set up a page containing anything that can go viral. A promise to get a luxury car works well. They just have to tell everyone to like the page and to share it as much as possible, to keep the chain reaction going and get even more likes. The scammers wait until there’s enough likes before they clean out the content, rename it and start looking for a buyer. The price is in “$ per k”, meaning dollars per 1000 likes. A page with 100 000 likes could sell for over $1000. So sharing the page can make quite a lot of money for the scammers if you have a lot of gullible friends, who in turn have a lot of gullible friends, and so on … The downside for you is that the likes stick even if the page is redesigned for some totally different purpose. Your face will be an evangelist for the page’s new owners and show up next to their brand. And you have no idea about what you will be promoting. I have friends who are anti-fur activists. You can probably imagine what one of them would feel when discovering that she likes a fur-coat designer! And finally some concrete advice. Review your list of old likes regularly. Remove everything except those things you truly like and want to support. When you encounter a giveaway post like this, check the involved brand’s main page in Facebook by searching for the brand name. You will in most cases notice that the giveaway is a totally different page that just is named similarly. That’s a strong scam indicator. Use common sense. From the above you get an idea about what likes in Facebook are worth. Does it make sense to give away luxury cars for this? Don’t participate in scams like this. It might feel tempting, but remember that your chance to win is exactly zero. Spread knowledge every time you see a scam of this kind. Comment with a link to this post or the appropriate description on Hoax-Slayer or Snopes.   Those sites are by the way fun and educating reading. I recommend spending some time there getting familiar with other types of hoaxes too. Read at least these two articles: Facebook car giveaway on Snopes and Facebook like-farming scams on Hoax-Slayer .   Safe surfing, Micke  

Dec 16, 2014
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Facebook’s new terms, is the sky falling?

You have seen them if you are on Facebook, and perhaps even posted one yourself. I’m talking about the statements that aim to defuse Facebook’s new terms of service, which are claimed to take away copyright to stuff you post. To summarize it shortly, the virally spreading disclaimer is meaningless from legal point of view and contains several fundamental errors. But I think it is very good that people are getting aware of their intellectual rights and that new terms may be a threat. Terms of service? That stuff in legalese that most people just click away when starting to use a new service or app. What is it really about and could it be important? Let’s list some basic points about them. The terms of service or EULA (End User License Agreement) is a legally binding agreement between the service provider and the user. It’s basically a contract. Users typically agree to the contract by clicking a button or simply by using the service. These terms are dictated by the provider of the service and not negotiable. This is quite natural for services with a large number of users, negotiating individual contracts would not be feasible. Terms of service is a defensive tool for companies. One of their primary goals is to protect against lawsuits. These terms are dictated by one part and almost never read by the other part. Needless to say, this may result in terms that are quite unfavorable for us users. This was demonstrated in London a while ago. No, we have not collected any children yet. Another bad thing for us users is the lack of competition. There are many social networks, but only one Facebook. Opting out of the terms means quitting, and going to another service is not really an option if all your friends are on Facebook. Social media is by its nature monopolizing. The upside is that terms of service can’t change the law. The legislation provides a framework of consumer and privacy protection that can’t be broken with an agreement. Unreasonable terms, like paying with your firstborn child, are moot. But be aware that the law of your own country may not be applicable if the service is run from another country. Also be aware that these terms only affect your relationship to the provider of the service. Intelligence performed by authorities is a totally different thing and may break privacy promises given by the company, especially for services located in the US. The terms usually include a clause that grant the provider a license to do certain things with stuff the users upload. There’s a legitimate reason for this as the provider need to copy the data between servers and publish it in the agreed way. This Facebook debacle is really about the extent of these clauses. Ok, so what about Facebook’s new terms of service? Facebook claim they want to clarify the terms and make them easier to understand, which really isn't the full story. They have all the time been pretty intrusive regarding both privacy and intellectual property rights to your content, and the latest change is just one step on that path. Most of the recent stir is about people fearing that their photos etc. will be sold or utilized commercially in some other way. This is no doubt a valid concern with the new terms. Let’s first take a look at the importance of user content for Facebook. Many services, like newspapers, rely on user-provided content to an increasing extent. But Facebook is probably the ultimate example. All the content you see in Facebook is provided either by the users or by advertisers. None by Facebook itself. And their revenue is almost 8 billion US$ without creating any content themselves. Needless to say, the rights to use our content is important for them. What Facebook is doing now is ensuring that they have a solid legal base to build current and future business models on. But another thing of paramount importance to Facebook is the users' trust. This trust would be severely damaged if private photos start appearing in public advertisements. It would cause a significant change in peoples relationship with Facebook and decrease the volume of shared stuff, which is what Facebook lives on. This is why I am ready to believe Facebook when they promise to honor our privacy settings when utilizing user data. Let’s debunk two myths that are spread in the disclaimer. Facebook is *not* taking away the copyright to your stuff. Copyright is like ownership. What they do, and have done previously too, is to create a license that grant them rights to do certain things with your stuff. But you still own your data. The other myth is that a statement posted by users would have some kind of legal significance. No, it doesn’t. The terms of service are designed to be approved by using the service, anyone can opt to stop using Facebook and thus not be bound by the terms anymore. But the viral statements are just one-sided declarations that are in conflict with the mutually agreed contact. I’m not going to dig deeper into the changes as it would make this post long and boring. Instead I just link to an article with more info. But let’s share some numbers underlining why it is futile for ordinary mortals to even try to keep up with the terms. I browsed through Facebook’s set of terms just to find 10 different documents containing some kind of terms. And that’s just the stuff for ordinary users, I left out terms for advertisers, developers etc. Transferring the text from all these into MS Word gave 41 pages with a 10pt font, almost 18 000 words and about 108 000 characters. Quite a read! But the worst of all is that there’s no indication of which parts have changed. Anyone who still is surprised by the fact that users don’t read the terms? So it’s obvious that ordinary user really can’t keep up with terms like this. The most feasible way to deal with Facebook’s terms of service is to consider these 3 strategies and pick the one that suits you best. Keep using Facebook and don’t worry about how they make money with your data. Keep using Facebook but be mindful about what you upload. Use other services for content that might be valuable, like good photos or very private info. Quit Facebook. That’s really the only way to decline their terms of service. By the way, my strategy is number 2 in the above list, as I have explained in a previous post. That’s like ignoring the terms, expecting the worst possible treatment of your data and posting selectively with that in mind. One can always put valuable stuff on some other service and post a link in Facebook. So posting the viral disclaimer is futile, but I disagree with those who say it’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. It lacks legal significance but is an excellent way to raise awareness. Part of the problem with unbalanced terms is that nobody cares about them. A higher level of awareness will make people think before posting, put some pressure on providers to make the terms more balanced, and make the legislators more active, thus improving the legal framework that control these services. The legislation is by the way our most important defense line as it is created by a more neutral part. The legislator should, at least in theory, balance the companies’ and end users’ interests in a fair way.   Safe surfing, Micke   Image: Screenshot from facebook.com

Dec 3, 2014
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It’s time to check your Twitter ‘Security and privacy’ settings

When it comes to privacy, Twitter's simplicity has always been its key advantage. Your tweets are public or they are protected. Of course, this implicit agreement with users has never been that simple. "Protected" tweets turned out to be searchable -- they aren't anymore. And if one of your followers decides to share your tweets through a manual retweet or a screenshot, you're just as exposed as you would be if your tweets were public. But that's true of any form of digital -- or real world -- communication. Now, Twitter is getting even more complicated to become in hopes of becoming as mainstream as Facebook, which is trying to improve the revelancy of its feed in order to replace Twitter as the go-to online destination for monitoring breaking news. You may have noticed that Twitter's is slowly rolling out changes to its web experience that may alter the way people understand the service. Tweets that have been favorited but not retweeted by people you follow may show up in your stream. More changes like location-based alerts and native video will soon follow. The closer-to-original Twitter experience still exists -- and will likely always exist -- in apps like Tweetdeck. But no matter how you use the service, your activity on and off the site is being tracked to improve outcomes for advertisers. This makes sense. It is a business and since you're not paying to use this valuable service, you are its product -- even if you're using the site for business. By offering tools like its free analytics, the site is striving to make it clear how useful it is and build good will as it evolves. However, Twitter recognizes that its users just may want to avoid allowing more "big data" tentacles into our digital brains. Thus it allows you to opt out of some tracking and features that may feel invasive. Here's how to do that: Go to your "Security and privacy" section of your Settings. Scroll all the way down. If you're interested in maximum privacy, I recommend your uncheck the three boxes at the bottom of the page -- Discoverability, Personalization and Promoted Content -- then click "Save changes". While you're on this page, make sure you're taking advantage of Twitter's best security tool: Login verification. Turn on two-factor authentication by activating "Send login verification requests to my phone". Twitter's biggest security problem is that everyone in the world knows your login. Unless you turn on Login verification, all an intruder needs is your password. You may also want to make sure "Tweet location" is off and erase all of your previous locations, if you're worried about being tracked in the real world. One last thing while you're checking your settings, click on Apps. Then "Revoke access" of any you're not using. Not sure if you're not using an app? Get rid of it and you can always renew its access later. Cheers, Jason [Image courtesy of Rosaura Ochoa via Flickr.]

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