No Room for Privacy: Facebook Launches Friend-Spying Feature ‘Nearby Friends’

A new feature introduced by Facebook to allow meeting the Facebook friends in real time when they are actually close by has had mixed reactions from its users.

Nearby Friends, an optional mobile application, taps steady stream of location information and makes it possible for friends to track each other in real time and meet up in real life.

  • For example, when you’re headed to the movies, ”Nearby Friends” will let you know if friends are nearby so you can see the movie together or meet up afterward,” says the Facebook newsroom.

When selected, it means one can have information about:

A list of approved Facebook friends who have selected this feature and their locations; number of friends nearby; list of friends with their locations, distance from your location and a time stamp of their visits.

The new application has options that allow you to share your general location with your customized Facebook friends, or close friends, depending upon the settings you select.

To avoid stalking, the location is shared only with people who have installed this feature on their mobile and who have agreed to share their location.

Initially, the feature, available on iOS and Android apps, will work only for a few locations.

A worrisome fact about this proximity sharing feature is that it has a ‘Location History’ setting that needs to be left on for it to function properly. This feature continuously gathers details about your whereabouts in the background, even when you are not using this feature to check friends nearby.

  • When Location History is on, Facebook builds a history of your precise location, even when you’re not using the app. See or delete this information in the Activity Log on your profile,” reads the description under the Location History Setting.

Additionally, it says,

  • Location History must be turned on for some location feature to work on Facebook, including Nearby Friends. Facebook may still receive your most recent precise location so that you can, for example, post content that’s tagged with your location or find nearby places.”

Josh Constine, A TechCrunch reporter, sees a catch in this. He says that Facebook still collects location data when necessary whether or not you use the new feature.

When left on, your location coordinates are added periodically to your activity log. He adds,

  • It’s a bit sketchy that these maps don’t show up in the default view of Activity Log like most other actions.  It’s almost like Facebook is trying to discourage use of the Clear Location History button.”

However, the new feature will make your experiences better.

  • Location History helps us know when it makes the most sense to notify you (for example, by making sure we don’t send you a notification every time a Facebook friend who works with you is also in the office),” reported TechCrunch quoting the company.

However, it could be used for advertising in future, said a company spokesperson.


Pushpa Mishra

Pushpa is a Dubai based scientific academic editor who worked for Reuters’ Zawya business magazine and at the same time a passionate writer for HackRead. From the very first day she has been a blessing for team Hackread. Thanks to her dedication and enthusiasm.