Facebook recently started rolling out a new “Nearby Friends” feature that allowed users to find, as you would expect, friends that are in close proximity physically. It does this by either allowing you to look at a list of nearby friends, or sending a notification when your friends are close by.
Thankfully, for those of us who don’t want Facebook broadcasting our location to the world, users need to opt-in to use the feature. But for those that do opt-in, Facebook will not only announce your current location but will also store your location history according to a Facebook representative who spoke to TechCrunch. That same representative said that while the data isn’t being used for ads right now, “in the future it will be.”
There are legitimate reasons to store location history beyond just advertisements. As TechCrunch also points out, it could be used to tell the difference between a Facebook friend that lives or works nearby, and one that you rarely see.
But likely, it’s the possibility of location based ads that really turns the Facebook shareholders’ crank. Being able to send you location based ads to brick and mortar stores, possibly with time sensitive sales tailored towards your likes could be huge for downtown shopping areas with a lot of foot traffic. Adding in areas that you have previously shopped or events you attended could be really useful for stores (Just watched your favorite band last week? We have their shirts 50 percent off, go two blocks and take a left!)
For those who are concerned about the “Zuckster” owning data on where they’ve been in addition to everything else he knows about us, Location History data can be cleared at any time (not unlike clearing your browser history). Location tracking can also be turned completely off, although that will prevent the use of the Nearby Friends function.
It is hard to criticize Facebook too much on this, it is after all, voluntary. However, this isn’t clearing a browser history or opening up a private tab on a web browser, this is tracking in the real world, in “meat space” as I hear the techies are apt to call it now.
I’ve never had to worry how my physical location will be interpreted by my digital friends, much less digital strangers like advertisers or anyone else who manages to get their hands on the data. Google Now has been doing this for a while, but plugging it into a social network just feels different. I’m not saying don’t opt-in and I’m not saying Zuckerberg is trying to become our new overlord, I’m just saying that to me, this feels different.
[Photo Credit: Jakob Steinschaden]