Facebook launches friend tracking feature | CNN Business
Highlights of the story
Facebook’s Nearby Friends feature shares your general location with your chosen friends
Tracking is enabled by default so people don’t accidentally share your location
Nearby Friends also has an option to share a user’s exact location on a map
Your phone always knows where you are. And now, if you want, your Facebook friends will always know where you are.
Facebook is introducing a mobile feature called Nearby Friends that takes advantage of this constant stream of location information so friends can follow each other in real time.
The idea is to make it easier for people to meet in real life, so they can have in-person conversations instead of comment threads, temporarily replacing likes and LOLs with eye contact and real laughter. A live meeting is also an excellent opportunity to take a selfie with your friend and upload it to Facebook Instagram.
In a refreshing change, the new Nearby Friends feature is no enabled by default.
Friends won’t be able to see where you are unless you decide live tracking is something you want in your life and visit your Facebook settings to turn it on. Making a potentially invasive new feature suggests that Facebook may have learned from some of its past mistakes and privacy issues.
You can choose to share your general location with all your Facebook friends, close friends, or a custom list of people you feel most comfortable with. To further minimize the potential stalking factor, your location is only shared with other people who also use the feature and have chosen to share their location with you.
When turned on, Nearby Friends displays a list of approved Facebook friends who also use the feature and shows their approximate location. A push notification can tell you how many friends are nearby. Open the app to see a list of friends, the neighborhood or city they’re in, how many miles away they are from your current location, and a timestamp of when they were there.
There’s an option to share your exact location with specific friends, which can be useful for coordinating large groups at concerts or finding someone in a crowded area. Your friends will see a small image of your face on a map for a set period of time.
Nearby Friends will be available on Facebook’s iOS and Android apps, but at first they’ll only work for select locations.
Facebook, Instagram, and many other apps already include features that allow people to “check in” to locations, but these location features are different because you decide if and when to share each specific location. You can check in at a Starbucks downtown, but never at your house or some other place you prefer to keep private. Nearby Friends is continuously collecting details about where you are in the background instead of waiting for a manual check-in.
This isn’t the first time an app has used location information to physically connect friends. Similar apps like Highlight, which gained attention in 2012, mapped the locations of nearby strangers. Facebook also bought a startup in 2012 called Glancee that also connected strangers. This technology evolved into this new, more private feature.
If you turn on the Nearby Friends feature, Facebook starts collecting data about your exact location and keeps details about where you’ve been in the past, not just the places you’ve used its app to check in. It also collects location information even when the Facebook app is closed.
But you can turn off this location history in the settings of the Facebook app. It’s possible to delete individual locations from a history or erase everything and start from scratch.