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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Your digital memories – will they vanish or persist?

If you like sailing and tall ships, I can recommend this podcast about Pam Bitterman’s book Sailing to the far horizon. It’s a great story about the last years of the community-operated ship Sofia, covering both a lot of happy sailing and the ship’s sad end in the early eighties. But this is not about hippies on a ship, it’s about how we record and remember our lives. In the podcast Pam tells us how the book was made possible by her parents saving her letters home. Perhaps they had a hunch that this story will be written down one day. Going on to state that e-mails and phone calls wouldn’t have been saved that way. That’s a very interesting point that should make us think. At least it made me think about what we will remember about our lives in, say, twenty years? We collect more info about what we are doing than ever before. We shoot digital pictures all the time and post status updates on Facebook. We are telling the world where we are, what we are doing and what we feel. Maybe in a way that is shallower than letters home, but we sample our lives at a very granular rate. The real question is however how persistent this data is? If we later realize we have experienced something unique enough to write a book about, have our digital life left enough traces to support us? Pam wrote the book about Sofia some twenty years later. A twenty year old paper is still young, but that’s an eternity in the digital world. Will you still be on the same social media service? Do you still have the same account or have you lost it. Does the service even exist? And what about your e-mails, have you saved them? How are your digital photos archived? You may even have cleaned up yourself to fit everything into a cheaper cloud account. Here’s something to keep in mind about retaining your digital life. Realize the value of your personal records. You may fail to see the value in single Facebook posts, but they may still form a valuable wholeness. If you save it you can choose to use it or not in the future. If you lose it you have no choice. Make sure you don’t lose access to your mail, social media and cloud storage accounts. That would force you to start fresh, which usually means data loss. Always register a secondary mail address in the services. That will help you recover if you forget the password. Use a password manager to avoid losing the password in the first place. Redundancy is your friend. Do not store important data in a single location. The ideal strategy is to store your files both on a local computer and in a cloud account. It provides redundancy and also stores data in several geographically separated locations. This is easy with younited because you can set it to automatically back up selected folders. Mail accounts have limited capacity and you can’t keep stuff forever. Don’t delete your correspondence. Check your mail client instead for a function that archives your mail to local storage. Check your social media service for a way to download a copy of your stuff. In Facebook you can currently find this function under Settings / General. It’s good to do this regularly, and you should at least do it if you plan to close your account and go elsewhere. Migrate your data when switching to a new computer or another cloud service. It might be tricky and take some time, but it is worth it. Do not see it as a great opportunity to start fresh and get rid of "old junk". If you are somewhat serious about digital photography, you should get familiar with DAM. That means Digital Asset Management. This book is a good start. Pam did not have a book in mind when she crossed the Pacific. But she was lucky and her parents helped her retain the memories. You will not be that lucky. Don’t expect your friends on Facebook to archive posts for you, you have to do it yourself. You may not think you’ll ever need the stuff, just like Pam couldn’t see the book coming when onboard Sofia. But you never know what plans the future has for you. When you least expect it, you might find yourself in a developing adventure. Make yourself a favor and don’t lose any digital memories. Safe surfing, Micke  

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On Ello you’re not a product, you’re a feature.

Most of us have some kind of relationship with Facebook. We either love it, hate it or ignore it. Some of us are hooked. Some have found new opportunities, and many have got themselves into a mess on Facebook. Some are worry-free and totally open while others are deeply concerned about privacy. But we probably all agree that Facebook has changed our lives or at least impacted our ways to communicate. Facebook has showed that social media is an important tool for both business and private affairs. Facebook was in the right place at the right time to become the de-facto standard for social media. But the success of Facebook is also what makes it scary. Imagine the power you have if you know everything about everyone in the civilized world. And on top of that with quite loose legislation about what you can do with that data. Ok, everything and everyone are exaggerations, but not too far from the truth. Others have tried to challenge Facebook, but no one has succeeded so far. One reason is that social media automatically is monopolizing. The most important selection criteria is where your friends are, and that drives everyone into one common service. The fact that even Google failed with Google+, despite their huge resources and a ready user base from services like Gmail, just underlines how solid Facebook’s position is. Ello is the latest challenger and they certainly have an interesting approach. Ello tries to hit Facebook straight in its weakest point and provide a service that respect user integrity. They may lack the resources of Google, but they can be credible in this area. The choice between Facebook and Google is like a rock and a hard place for the privacy minded, but Ello is different. Their manifesto says it all. Will Ello survive and will they be the David that finally defeats Goliath? Ello is in a very early phase and they certainly have a very long way to go. But remember that their success depends on you too. You may not be a product on Ello, but you are certainly a feature. The main feature, actually. The team can only provide a framework for our social interactions. But people to be social with is absolutely crucial for any social network. So Ello’s raise or fall is mostly in our hands now. They need enough pioneers to make it a vibrant society. The development team can make the service fail, but they can only create potential for success. Ello needs you to materialize that potential. So what’s my honest opinion about Ello? The fact that the service is based on privacy and integrity is good. We need a social media service like this. But there are also many open questions and dark clouds on Ello’s sky. People have complained about its usability. And yes, usability is quite weird in many ways. It’s also very obvious that Ello is too premature to be a tool for non-technical users. Now in October 2014, I would personally only invite people who are used to beta software. But both usability and the technical quality can be fixed, it just takes more work from the team. A bigger question mark is however the future business model of Ello. On Facebook you’re a product and that’s what pays for the “free” service. But how is Ello going to strike a balance between privacy and funding the operation? This is one of the big challenges. Another is if the privacy-promise really is enough? Many of us are already privacy-aware, but the vast majority is still quite clueless. What Ello needs is either a big increase in privacy awareness or something clever that Facebook doesn’t provide and can’t copy quickly. It may seem futile for a small startup to challenge Facebook. But keep in mind that Facebook was small too once in the beginning. Facebook showed us that we need social media. Perhaps Ello can show us that we need social media with integrity. But anyway, you are among those who decide Ello’s future by either signing up or ignoring it.   Safe surfing, @Micke-fi on Ello   Picture: ello.co screen capture

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How should we deal with defamation and hate speech on the net? – Poll

Everybody probably agree that the net has developed a discussion culture very different from what we are used to in real life. The used adjectives vary form inspiring, free and unrestricted to crazy, sick and shocking. The (apparent) anonymity when discussing on-line leads to more open and frank opinions, which is both good and bad. It becomes especially bad when it turns into libel and hate speech. What do you think about this? Read on and let us know in the poll below. We do have laws to protect us against defamation. But the police still has a very varying ability to deal with crimes on the net. And the global nature of Internet makes investigations harder. Most cases are international, at least here in Europe where we to a large extent rely on US-based services. This is in the headlines right now here in Finland because of a recent case. The original coverage is in Finnish so I will give you a short summary in English. A journalist named Sari Helin blogged about equal rights for sexual minorities, and how children are very natural and doesn’t react anyway if a friend has two mothers, for example. This is a sensitive topic and, hardly surprising, she got a lot of negative feedback. Part of the feedback was clear defamation. Calling her a whore, among other nasty things. She considered it for a while and finally decided to report the case to the police, mainly because of Facebook comments. This is where the really interesting part begins. Recently the prosecutor released the decision about the case. They simply decided to drop it and not even try to investigate. The reason? Facebook is in US and it would be too much work contacting the authorities over there for this rather small crime. A separately interviewed police officer also stated that many of the requests that are sent abroad remain unanswered, probably for the same reason. This reflects the situation in Finland, but I guess there are a lot of other countries where the same could have happened. Is this OK? The resourcing argument is understandable. The authorities have plenty of more severe crimes to deal with. But accepting this means that law and reality drift even further apart. Something is illegal but everybody knows you will get away with the crime. That’s not good. Should we increase resourcing and work hard to make international investigations smoother? That’s really the only way to make the current laws enforceable. The other possible path is to alter our mindset about Internet discussions. If I write something pro-gay on the net, I know there’s a lot of people who dislike it and think bad things about me. Does it really change anything if some of these people write down their thoughts and comment on my writings? No, not really. But most people still feel insulted in cases like this. I think we slowly are getting used to the different discussion climate on the net. We realize that some kinds of writing will get negative feedback. We are prepared for that and can ignore libel without factual content. We value feedback from reputable persons, and anonymous submissions naturally have less significance. Pure emotional venting without factual content can just be ignored and is more shameful for the writer than for the object. Well, we are still far from that mindset, even if we are moving towards it. But which way should we go? Should we work hard to enforce the current law and prosecute anonymous defamers? Or should we adopt our mindset to the new discussion culture? The world is never black & white and there will naturally be development on both these fronts. But in which direction would you steer the development if you could decide? Now you have to pick the one you think is more important.   [polldaddy poll=8293148]   Looking forward to see what you think. The poll will be open for a while and is closed when we have enough data.   Safe surfing, Micke  

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