Facebook users advised to discard location-tracking feature

by Kimberly L. Wright
Air University Public Affairs

11/19/2010 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala.  -- Social media websites such as Facebook give people and agencies a valuable tool to communicating with family, the public and each other. However, such tools must be used with care, and a new Facebook feature presents a potential risk, said Jerry Russell, the 42nd Air Base Wing security manager.

Facebook recently introduced "Places I checked in to," a feature which allows friends to see your logging-in location. This application uses the IP address to identify the location from where the user logs onto Facebook and posts the location on the user's wall. A more detailed description, including a map of the location, is then provided by clicking on the location link.

"Various (Operations Security) and Department of Defense forums have indicated (via open source reporting) British forces have been targeted by terrorist/insurgent cells in the (Southwest Asia area of responsibility) by using this feature," said Mr. Russell. "Tactically, this Facebook feature can be employed by an adversary to refine targeting and corroborate intelligence on specific sensitive locations and/or exploitable personnel."

According to the recently disseminated guidance from the Pentagon, "Social network sites already provide an extensive open source intelligence gathering tool. This application is almost creating a one stop shop targeting pack, which could potentially be used to target military personnel, family and friends."

Any time you put information out there on Facebook, you run the risk of being tracked down, said Mr. Russell. Even nondeployed military members, their families, Department of Defense civilians and contractors should avoid giving out too much information, as they run the risk of being targeted by terrorist sleeper cells in the U.S. or for espionage purposes, he noted.

"The criminal element uses it, too," he said. For instance, people who indicate via social media that they are going on vacation are at risk for their homes being burglarized while they are away.

Mr. Russell noted that the "Places I checked in to" feature is on by default unless disabled by the user.

A person's location can be disclosed three different ways. To squelch these disclosures, follow these directions:

From an account's home page, on the right-top corner, click on the "account" link. Under that, the privacy setting is the third item from the top. Once that item is selected, on the first page that appears click "customize settings," located near the bottom of the page.

Under the "Things I share" heading, disable "Include me in 'People here now' after I check in" box by unticking the box. Then change the "Places I check in to" tab to "only me" by clicking on the drop down menu on the right, choosing "custom," then "only me." Save the settings.

To stop other users from posting your location on Facebook, under the "Things others share" section click the "edit settings tab" to the right of "Friends can check me in to Places." Click the drop-down menu and choose "disabled."

To stop the application itself from automatically posting your location, go back to the privacy settings. At the bottom of the page is a section titled "Applications and Websites." Click on the highlighted-blue "edit settings" link. Click the Edit Settings tab next to "Info accessible through your friends." Then untick the boxes next to "Current location" and "Places I check in to." Once completed, click on save changes, then click "Okay" on the confirmation screen.

According to the Air Force news story by Mark Diamond of Air Mobility Command Public Affairs, the Air Force has phased in the use of social media beginning in March 2010 as part of an Air Forcewide policy of social media engagement. The use of social media is governed by the following Air Force and DOD guidance: AFI 35-113, Chapter 15, Social Media; AFI 33-129 (Section 2), Use of Internet Resources by Government Employees; AFI 35-107, Public Web Communications; or DODD 5500.7-R, Joint Ethics Regulation, subsection 2-301, Use of Federal Government Resources.

For more information on OPSEC and social media, contact Mr. Russell at 953-1886