Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why you should pause before signing up for the Circle

If you have a Facebook account you've probably been overwhelmed by invitations to join the new "Local Network" the circle. If you're thinking about signing up for it, I'd encourage you to

before joining this latest fad.

Let's start by talking about a similar application called Girls Near Me (there's a slightly less creepy version out there somewhere, I'm sure) that's described pretty well in this article. Girls Near Me would search popular social networks that have "check in" features and look for check ins by girls that were near your current location and then show them to you. From there it's not hard to find Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn profiles.

Creepy, right? Yeah. Really, really creepy.

Now let's go current: The Circle is creepy for exactly the same reason. It aggregates public information (and information shared directly with you) and displays it to whoever has permissions and is interested. If you post your check ins publicly, that means anyone can see them and know where you are.

On a side note, they also ask for a lot of permissions to your Facebook account including your current location and your friends location. If you insist on using this app at least do a good, careful read through of their privacy policy, especially the section on when they might decide to share your location history with a third party.

So, what's the solution? The Circle is just aggregating information you've made public. It makes it easier for people to get to, yes, but it's not creating any privacy breaches that aren't already there. The real solution is to look very carefully at your privacy settings on Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Twitter, Google+ (if you use it...ever), and any other network. Especially sites that have access to your location data.

Start with Facebook. They actually have a handy tool to see what information you have that's public. Click on the "privacy" icon in the top left of your profile, then select "who can see my stuff"