back to article MoD labels Facebook Places a 'targeting pack' for terrorists

Security chiefs have cautioned army, navy and RAF personnel to disable Facebook Places, over fears it could be used by terrorists to identify and track targets. The new service could act as a "one stop shop targeting pack", particularly in Northern Ireland, they warn. The Ministry of Defence is concerned about how it could …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ...I've said it before...

    ...and I'll say it again. Isn't arriving at some destination with your friends supposed to be fun? If you are all there together and presumably within eyeshot of each other, well what benefit can be had from posting an update to Facebook? Who's reading it? Evidently no one you care about enough to actually invite. So don't do it.

    1. Elmer Phud


      I've just blocked anything on Faceache coming from two people I know 'cos I got fed up with being spammed by what amounted to adverts for shops, cafes, coffee places etc. etc.

      I don't need to know you're on the other side of town having a bloody burger!

  2. TeeCee Gold badge

    I can see the problem.

    "Hey Abdul, pass the rocket launcher."


    "I've just noticed on Facebook that the British first armoured brigade have their locations down as 'behind hill 427 outside Kandahar'........"

    1. Adam Foxton

      They didn't think of that

      When they updated "winning Hearts and Minds" to "winning Hearts, Minds and Facebook Friends"...

  3. Anonymous Coward

    " could be used by dissident Republican groups..."

    I never did trust those Tea Party people.

  4. Rogerborg

    Sure and begorrah, t'eyre all in tat army base there

    Alternatively, if you want to spot them out and about, look for the pack of tattooed drunken red faced goons, braying in Manc and Geordie, and picking fights with all and sundry when the odds are 3:1 in their favour. It's not exactly rocket-launcher science.

    1. Gary Shields


      Nice stereotyping >_> I take it an old girlfriend ran off with a squaddie then? :)

      1. Anonymous Coward

        @Gary : the point of a stereotype is that it is recognisable

        Just because something is a cliche doesn't make it untrue.

  5. Cunningly Linguistic
    Black Helicopters

    I wonder how long it will be before...

    Osama gives in to peer pressure and gets a Facebook page and advertises his location on Facebook Places as 3rd cave on the right, halfway up the fifth mountain on the right, just west of the Afghani/Pakistani border

    1. James O'Shea

      you mean

      the mountain that _used_ to be the fifth one on the right, before the unfortunate accident involving half-a-dozen W-88 warheads, right?


  6. Anonymous Coward

    A common sense move to be honest

    With respect, as a service member in NI, I can see the point in this. It would not directly cause a person to be targeted, but would in essence greatly feed into an intelligence picture that dissidents like to build up about the likes of us.

    With monitoring, it's entirely possble to build up a piture of someone's weekly routine. For example, where they like to frequent if n weekend leave. With a location marked as a likely spot frequented by off-duty HM Forces to dissidents, they can then observe likely squaddies. They are not hard to spot, especially the 2 Bns of Infantry who have prodominantly mainland UK accents and short hair.

    Recently I had to get one of these guys back home. He was black - not a common skin colour in NI to be frank, he'd lost his mates, he'd had his phone nicked, was plastered and had no money left. Luckily we spotted him before anyone else. Young people and especially young soldiers can be unaware of the very real threat against security forces in NI because of seeing NI now as 'peaceful' and can lead to dangerous complacancy; especially when coupled with advancing technology like GPS phones and instant internet access anywhere on your handset.

    Badgers, coz that aint a badger set, that's an SRR hide watching 'em.

    1. Scorchio!!
      Big Brother


      I was over there myself, and instantly knew that Facebook would be a useful supplementary targeting mechanism. The net can be used to pick up crumbs which, of themselves being no use, in aggregate enable selective targeting and either assassination or kidnapping (for intelligence purposes). To use the words of someone who mistakenly pooh-poohed the idea, it is not rocket science. All one needs is spare time, knowledge, and a search engine.

      As it was for some years I checked under my car early in the morning. If a head of intelligence service can leave personal data on Facebook, so can anyone else. It's not the individual snippets, it is the picture that counts. Too many people discount this, and that is very slack. Once you've been over there your view of personal information security changes. Forever. No amount of civvy 'never mind, don't worry' will make it any safer.

      Yes, this is one reason why my nick is fairly innocuous and nothing to do with my identity.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        That's the thing

        I don't think many people consider how the small bits of information online add up and can so easily be correlated.

        I grew up a short kick in the arse from Thiepval Barracks (the helicopters weren't low-flying unless you could see the whites of the pilot's eyes ;-) ) and when I was old enough to go out drinking with my mates the bar we generally went to often had a bunch of squaddies just generally minding their own business and enjoying a night off duty.

        Imagine how much easier it would have been for the terrorists if the same combination of Facebook and sloppy privacy thinking had been around back then. A pattern of people posting from the army base and also checking in to "name of bar here" would emerge without the recon ever having to be "in person".

        That would have put the soldiers, the bar owners and the regular patrons at risk, all for minimal effort on the part of the terrorists to build a target list.

  7. John PM Chappell

    Nitpicking again, but...

    "circuled" means what, exactly? ;¬)

    More seriously, I have actively avoided Facebook and all similar applications precisely because the whole idea is pointless, for the most part. As pointed out above, anyone you really care about and who really cares about you, is already aware of pertinent information, like where you are, unless you don't want them to be. In either case, I fail to see how FaceBook and its ilk could help you there; it's transparently about gathering large amounts of information to sell, anonymized or otherwise, to businesses.

  8. richardgsmith

    Eye Security

    Does the document also advise 'users' to wear a bag on their head when in public in case they are spotted by eye. They may need to look at securing eyes too.

  9. Alan Esworthy

    So what?

    It is my opinion that aficionados of social networking are at heart longing for the security of social animals and eschewing the liberty and responsibilities of individuality. So be it. Worker ants are identical and interchangeable. Kill one and it has a vanishingly small effect on the nest.

    So what's the big deal about losing the occasional Facebooker?

    1. James O'Shea

      the big deal

      "what's the big deal about losing the occasional Facebooker?"

      There's too damn many of 'em to pick off one by one. We need 'em to congregate into large groups so that they can be eliminated en masse. We should be _encouraging_ them to use this 'technology'... and then we should have 'em 'friend' a cruise missile.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    I think the part of the British Army still in NI has returned to its peace time role

    Knocking up local girls and knocking out local men at the local bars.

    1. Scorchio!!

      Think again

      No. The threat has reared its head quite a bit. The SF have interrupted arms buying, targeting and attacks for quite some time but, as civvies have been learning since 2001, it is impossible to stop every attack. Someday one idiot will get through. Just be thankful that this particular brand of madness does not involve strapping bombs around waists.

  11. Sonny Jim

    What has open source got to do with it?

    "Social networks already provide an extensive open source intelligence gathering tool. This application is almost creating a one stop shop targeting pack"

    Errrr, wut?

    1. Rolf Howarth

      Re: open source

      I'm sure the MoD don't give two hoots about the source code or implementation of Facebook's web site. They're referring to the information. You've given up copyright or control over your personal information, and it's freely available to anyone who wants to use it. They're using "open source" as a loose synonym for "publicly available for free".

    2. trottel

      no title

      Actually, i think they use the word open source in the best possible way: free for all to use. :)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    It only takes...

    A guy who wants to come home and find his telly still there to work out that this is a bad idea and should be disabled. Nice to know military intelligence caught up: not so re-assuring to know that they needed to *tell* the solders

  13. Anonymous Coward

    And I thought that Facebook...

    was just just for killing time!! :)

    Mine is the one with the built-in Lo-Jack and GPS transponder.

  14. Angrr

    Don't forget FourSquare

    If facebook is a risk, with it's many layers of security, I imagine FourSquare would be even worse, avoid!

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whilst you're locking down Facebook, don't forget FourSquare

    The security built into FourSquare isn't all that bad, disable all updates to FaceBook and or Twitter when you checkin/check a mayorship etc.

    1. Keith T

      FourSquare isn't in the UK yet.

      is it?

      1. Francis Fish

        Foursquare's in the UK & Europe

        Plus Twitter has location feeds too,

  16. Dan P

    Scaremongering Panic Wranglers Strike Again

    Yet more people who obviously don't understand the functionality and can't be bothered to find out how it actually works spreading bullshit and generally scaremongering to try and cause panic. What a load of crap. With people like this around I'm surprised the internet got further than the fledgling network it started out as.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Scaremongering Panic Wranglers Strike Again

      Its all very well for you but you're not the one who has to check under your car every morning to ensure that someone who disagrees your fundamental right to exist hasn't left you a gift.

  17. LinkOfHyrule

    If you input this story into the Daily Mail headline generator

    If you input this story into the Daily Mail headline generator, along with the stories about the CEOP buttons, you get the following...

    "Is Facebook causing your family to become terrorists and paedophiles?"

    It also carries the following subheading...

    "Scientists still don't know if Facebook causes cancer and wars, is it safe to let your family take the risk?"

  18. Keith T
    Thumb Up

    Obviously the MoD is correct.

    And not just terrorists, but also spies, competitors, managers, rivals, burglars, future fathers in-law, and ex girl friends.

    I use Facebook and I don't mind sharing somethings.

    But when Facebook Places came out, I disabled it immediately.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Military intelligence.

    If they had any they'd realise bookface could provide excellent misinformation for anyone stupid enough to believe everything they read online:

    1) Don't post where you are - post where you aren't. If you're in Iraq tell everyone you're living it up down the pub;

    2) Post often - eventually people will just classify you as a self-important berk and will ignore you. Which is what you want if you're on a covert mission;

    3) Take the piss. Creatively annoy your enemy. Annoyed people think less rationally and are therefore more prone to doing the stupid thing. Maybe set up a Real IRA page and fill it with pictures of horse-fucking bucktoothed lunkheads.

    There are so many ways you can misdirect and misinform using failbook. You just have to think outside the bomb. Sorry box.

  20. someone up north

    face the fact

    face book is crap so don't use it full stop!

    1. Scorchio!!
      Thumb Up


      I closed my account some months back, having trialled it using limited information for a few months. I used the 'terminate with extreme prejudice' option, rather than Facebook's 'revivable' option.

      Everything about it made me uncomfortable toward the end, even though I'd screwed down tight every option I could. These people continually move the frigging goalposts, meaning that they remove users control over their data at their risk.

      Pity really, because it was a useful tool for finding old friends.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Ha ha ha, typical MOD fubar and FUD

    I turned this 'feature' as soon as it turned up in the browser.

    Granted its not probably the best idea to advertise your location if your in that line of work but I would like to think that the MOD's intel was correct.

    AFAIK the Places system is in use on the mobile versions of facebook and uses your phones GPS to tag where you are if you tell it to, also other users can tag you as well unless you disable that. Basically no GPS no checking in your location by yourself.

    So why the MOD's release states that the app uses your IP address to determine your location seems to be a bit strange. IP addresses dont give that accuracy of location.

    It's probably bored squaddies, crabs or matelot's who are bored and playing with there mobiles and not thinking of the consequences. If the naughty people can use this to track you how about trying to explain to the sgt major why facebook, after you added him as a friend once and forgot about it, showed you in the pub when you were supposedly bedded down in your room

    Also even though its stated thats its for advising and not instructing personnel, It can be guaranteed that some idiot officer will ignore that and, not understanding the technology, will over-react and claim thats its been banned from use and that anyone caught using it may get told off.

    Ha ha ha, typical MOD fubar.

    Big Brother because even the lamp posts are watching you!

    1. Andus McCoatover

      Trouble is, it's getting better...

      "IP addresses don't give that accuracy of location."

      ..from a six-year-old article

      As the Daily Flail might say, "Won't anyone think of the Onion Router?"

  22. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Just to be on the safe side

    Best ban telephone directories too. Don't allow anyone to place personal ads in newspapers. Have a full body suit on when out in public (so people can't even recognise your clothes). Ban DVLA from selling personal info - now I'm sure everyone will agree with that - Get rid of the electoral register.

    The one with the name tag ripped out.

    1. Scorchio!!


      Were you never ex-directory? I've always been, and I don't appear on the electoral roll. If you've not served then you might not understand, but take a little time to reflect on the fact that some Islamic nutcases recently plotted to kidnap a Muslim soldier and do evil. Anyone who a) identifies themselves online and b) says they are in the forces is inviting trouble.

      So yes, for flippantly joking about it perhaps you should be putting your coat on, before throwing yourself into the rain.

  23. Winkypop Silver badge

    "unprecedented privacy controls" - Facebook

    Hahahaaaaahaaaaahaaaaa, etc

    1. Chris 3

      To be fair...

      ... they said "unprecedented". They didn't say "good"

  24. fn0rd

    Nice work on bluring/removing up the personal info MOD...

    ...apart from leaving the email visible in the third picture down.

  25. Sophy Silver

    Official Facebook response

    As with a lot of new technologies, there has been confusion about how Places works and this is reflected in the article.

    For Facebook Places to act as a 'targeting pack for terrorists', MoD personnel would need to actually be friends with the terrorist, as the privacy settings are set to Friends Only by default.

    Places users have complete control; before your location is shared you have to actively check in somewhere, or allow your friends to check you in. You can’t be checked in unless you agree to be. We fully support organisations who want to educate their employees about how to use the internet and social networking sites, including Facebook. Whilst there were a few inaccuracies in the MoD guide, such as the claim that Facebook Places is automatically on until it is deactivated, they are clearly not 'labelling' Places as a 'targeting pack for terrorists'. The MoD is, like any responsible organisation, simply providing guidance on how to use these services appropriately.

    Places also does not share your location details with third party websites or applications 'by default'. Every time an application needs to access your data - to make it work and give you a better user experience - it must provide a clear set of instructions so you can easily see what information is needed before you accept, just as it would if it wanted to access your photos or friend lists.

    For people interested in how privacy on Places actually works, you can see a quick video on how to control your sharing through Places here:!/video/video.php?v=697692691093

    If you want to find out more, visit:

    Sophy Silver, Head of PR & Communications, Facebook

    1. Chris Williams (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Official Facebook response


      As I discussed at length with your PR agency on Friday, I'm afraid the document does label Places as a potential targeting pack, for terrorists.

      "This application is almost creating a one stop shop targeting pack, which could potentially be used to target military personnel, family and friends". - MoD

      I think that's pretty unequivocal. Unless you think they are concerned about the military and their families being targeted by someone else? Travelling timeshare salesmen, perhaps?

      - Chris

      1. Anonymous Coward

        How 'official' is this MOD document?

        Chris - The MOD security document looks rather simplistic to my eyes, which leads me to question just how official it actually is? Did you remove the header/footers and other identifying marks to protect your source or was it really issued in that state? Either G2 Branch HQ NI & 38 (Irish) Bde issues really oddly (by MOD standards) formatted documents nowadays or this was a more local production. After all a poorly informed Lance Corporal in the local security section can knock up a document, email it to a few units and it becomes "Official MOD security advice". Would you care to comment on just how official this really is?

    2. Chris 3
      Big Brother

      Which inaccuracy would that be again?

      Regarding: "Whilst there were a few inaccuracies in the MoD guide, such as the claim that Facebook Places is automatically on until it is deactivated"

      I just created a new test account and yes, Places was active by default, allowing "friends" to see my location.

      1. Sophy Silver

        Response from Facebook

        You must actively check in or allow your friends to check you in before you share your location. It does not update your location without you having first done this.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Official Facebook response

      Sophy, when you say “MoD personnel would need to actually be friends with the terrorist, as the privacy settings are set to Friends Only by default.” you are only taking direct relationships in Facebook into account and not the degrees of separation that occur in real life.

      I have an example that occurred the other week. I have changed the names. I am Facebook friends with Bob; I used to work with his brother Dave who is married to Alice. On Facebook Bob posts “Off to a specific family event – at Dave & Alice’s”. Now “Dave & Alice’s” is tagged in Facebook places as a local business. Is the terrorist or stalker who is friends with Bob interested in Dave, Alice or someone else at that family event? These people think believe they have set their privacy settings correctly or perhaps don’t have a Facebook account due to privacy concerns.

      1. Sophy Silver

        Response from Facebook

        Places are public spaces. The scenario you’ve described is really no different to what someone could have posted on Facebook or elsewhere online before Places was launched. Whether you are talking about relationships online or offline you should be conscious of how trustworthy your friends and their connections are – particularly if you are working in a sensitive line of work.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "As with a lot of new technologies, there has been confusion about how Places works"

      I think it's unfair to describe this "confusion" as being universal to "a lot of" new technologies. Some new technology is confusing granted, but no more than it has to be.

      Even the average "Joe six pack" has a basic understanding of how a particle accelerator works, for example. Facebook on the other hand is a complete mystery. How does Places work? I dunno, do you? No. Where does it get data from, where does the data go to, who sees it in the middle? Unicorns? Space Turtles? Who? No one knows because Facebook is never going to tell us, as the answer is, in all probability, utterly terrifying.

      1. Sophy Silver

        Response from Facebook

        Facebook is a free service and something that many people find adds value to their day-to-day lives. As with any service, users do need to invest some time in order to use it properly. With the introduction of master sharing controls in May this year Facebook has have made it very simple for users to set all their settings to one option that suits them using one click. With Places, we realise location is a sensitive area so we went even further to help people control their privacy by defaulting sharing to friends only by default – the most conservative of all location services. Users also get clear pop up disclosures and notifications the first time they check in or a friend asks to check them in with a clear ‘learn more’ section, as well as notifications every time they are checked in after they have agree to use the product. We also created simple guides and videos to help educate users on how to use the product as referenced in the original comment.

    5. Paul RND*1000

      With all due respect Sophy...

      ...just because it's default is currently set to "friends only" doesn't mean it'll stay that way in future.

      Sorry, but Facebook's record on privacy and in particular changing privacy defaults under the auspices of "improvements" speaks for itself in this regard.

  26. Anonymous Coward


    What's to be banned next? Talking? Your friends might then be able to tell where you are!

    Perhaps phoning will be banned next, just in case someone tells the person on the other end who/where they have dialled...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Re: Umm

      The advisory says nothing about Facebook being banned anywhere, quite the opposite. It simply urges MoD personnel to disable one particular feature on Facebook, if they want to.

      It's like urging people to lock their cars. They don't have to if they don't want to. It's not a "ban" on using your car.

  27. CASIOMS-8V

    I am not on Facebook but

    I just bought some asparagus and like the 80's television program 'Minder.'

    Just thought everyone should know.

  28. Alex King

    I'm comfortable with this

    Anyone who leaves this option turned on probably deserves to be burgled / shot / fundamentalised on the grounds of extreme vanity.

    Seriously though, I do find facebook useful for staying in touch with people, as I tend to move cities every few years. So when I see one of my friends notifying me that they've just arrived at Wagamamas, I respond with "Excellent - I'll just nip round while you're out and help myself to your spangly new 50-inch 3D LCD Sony telly you've been telling me all about."

    They tend to stop using Places after that.

  29. Eden

    Oh ffs

    I don't post anything to facebook I wouldn't be happy for world+dog to see, that way I don't worry so much about security breaches.

    But ffs adding a "feature" that automatically tells world+dog my exact location regarldess of if I actually choose to allow it or not (because they decided to set it to everyone by default and link it to the mobile app that didn't have this feature when I installed it) is not on.

    Seriously tempted to remove it on basis of that alone even though I don't really care if people know what pub I go to after work or which floor I decide to go to the toilet on...

    *suffice to say this has been disabled now but the idea that I have to keep constant tabs on what they decide to share with the world next without my permission is worrying*

  30. BongoJoe


    I normally have my security set so that I have control over what I publish over FB. I certainly wouldn't wish to be tracked and my location published so I never installed nor use whatever tracking applications there are.

    So, I looked on my Privacy settings and I am astounded that others can tell dog/world where I am.

    I don't mind this feature but surely the default setting for these privacy side-stepping applications or do-dahs should be screwed down to almost off?

  31. Eden

    Address book too

    Wow...apparently even though I said NO when the mobile app asked to upload my phone did it anyway.

    (Account - edit friends - phonebook)

    A mate just pointed out my entire phone book including some very sensitive info both work and personal is now open to world+dog.

    App is being gutted, info removed, then uninstalled, I've had enough :(

    I only use FB as a nice place to dump photos to share and keep tabs on events, not worth the constant creeping of info sharing against my consent.

  32. Matt Hawkins

    Open Source?

    "Social networks already provide an extensive open source intelligence gathering tool"

    Since when is Facebook "open source"? I suspect the person who wrote that knows nothing about technology and is just using some words he found on the internet.

  33. HFoster

    I don't use Facebook Places/FourSquuare/Twitter Locations

    ... because not only is it giving away more information than I care to, but because I am also a big fan of the Terminator franchise.

    Fuck Skynet using our self-indulgence against us.

  34. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    A good general guide with *any* personal information asked for by *any* organisation

    "Friendly " (apparently) or otherwise.

    No need to ask.

    No need to know.

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