Facebook is rolling out Nearby Friends, a new opt-in feature that would enable people to see how far away you are from them. You can turn it on to show your friends your exact location in real time, so that your friends would know where they can meet you. Theoretically, Facebook encourages people to meet off-line, but practically the feature will more likely raise privacy concerns.
The iOS and Android apps will receive the feature in the coming weeks. Basically, the feature adds the list of people in your friends circles or physically near your current location in iOS and Android Facebook apps. Additionally, it will send you a notification if you are anywhere near a friend, that is if your friends choose to share their precise locations with their Facebook friends.
The developer behind this feature claims that the ultimate idea behind it is to help people easily discover when their friends are around them, and physically meet and spend some quality time together. The idea in itself is great to have people move out from the online space into the real world and hang out with their friends more – a propagandist manifestation of Facebook’s mission to connect people aims at those who criticize it for making people addicted to online depiction of their lives as opposed to living and experiencing it.
As far as privacy is concerned, since the feature is opt-in, those who don’t find it attractive can simply ignore it. In addition, it is available for 18+ people. Moreover, you will only be able to see the locations of friends who have this feature enabled on purpose. You will be able to choose the specific list of friends you would like to share your exact location with, but at the same time you will also be able to keep your exact location open to all of your Facebook friends.
Nevertheless, if you enable the feature and leave it on at all times, it could potentially lead to extensive battery drain and extremes in sharing your location at all times. Of course, Facebook will use your location history to better target Facebook ads at you.
Facebook has made a reverence to the privacy advocates by making this feature opt-in, which won’t prevent it from trying to coax you into opting-in by displaying teasers like “5 of your friends are nearby now. Enable Nearby Friends to see who and how close they are.”
Facebook may have built the feature with safety options in mind, such as the location is approximate and the possibility to share your location with a selected group of people as well as the opt-in nature of Nearby Friends. Nevertheless, it gives room for users to ignore or abuse safety rules when it comes to location sharing. Users are most likely to share their locations with all their Facebook contacts through sheer ignorance of the fact that they can actually have it filtered. In addition, users would have to remember to disable the location sharing feature manually when they no longer want their friends to see where they are. Even if they would want to stop sharing their physical location, they may not always remember to do disable Nearby Friends on their smartphones.
Worst of all, someone knowing about this feature could simply borrow your smartphone for a minute to take a look at your Facebook pictures and secretly enable the feature without your consent, which will effectively expose your location. The number of scenarios than this feature could be exploited is virtually limitless.
The bottom line is Nearby Friends will put a lot of relationships at test, as well as will question users’ ability to protect their privacy. Contemporary users seem to be so self-consumed showing off moments of their life to the world, they seem to be completely oblivious of the price they are paying to get that exposure, until something happens. This something doesn’t have to be an identity theft, although it is a possible case scenario, but a number of outcomes from stalking partners to particularly obsessed ex schoolmates. The choice is up to you.