Facebook Nearby Friends

Image Credit: Facebook

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Mark Zuckerberg assured his critics that Facebook is more multi-faceted than most people think. It’s clear from Zuckerberg’s comments that he believes mobile is where the future lies for the company. This vision is taking shape with announcements like the acquisition of WhatsApp and removing the chat feature from the Facebook mobile app. Mobile is crucial to Facebook’s continued growth and last week’s launch of the latest feature, Nearby Friends, shows how serious the company is about its mobile initiatives.

If you haven’t heard, Nearby Friends is an opt-in feature for iOS and Android users whereby you can see which of your friends are close to you – provided they’ve also turned on the feature. Unlike other geo-specific apps like FourSquare, Facebook’s Nearby Friends won’t show you exactly where your contacts are, just their location-based on their neighbourhood. If you see that a friend is around, you can tap on their icon and message them.

As is the case with most Facebook-related products and features, privacy concerns are top of mind with Nearby Friends. With the feature turned on, Facebook is able to track your location approximately every 15 minutes. To address the privacy issues, Facebook displays a list of your locations inside your private Activity Log, which you can find (and delete) from your web profile page. Still, even with the option to remove your list of locations, opting in to the Nearby Friends feature provides Facebook with a trove of data about you; data it can use to better serve you ads.

Personally, I’m not likely to use Nearby Friends as I’ve never really seen much value in sharing my location with my networks. If I’m attending a conference or other event where I want to encourage other people to attend or connect with me, I’ll share those details ahead of time. Sharing where I’m buying my morning coffee or which ATM I’m using to withdraw some cash has never been top of mind for me.

And while I am a Facebook user, I must admit that I recently uninstalled the mobile app from my Android phone. I had noticed that each update brought with it many footnotes about needing access to my data such as my calendar and text messages, access I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable granting. To avoid any issues, I stopped updating the app; until one day when I accidentally hit the “Update All” link and the app was updated. Not long after, I read this article from Danny Brown on Business2Community and promptly uninstalled the Facebook and Messenger apps.

Unless the permissions requested become less intrusive, I don’t imagine I’ll reinstall the app on my phone. Nearby Friends isn’t something I’ll personally spend time investigating but it’s definitely something I’ll keep an eye on as Facebook begins to push into the mobile ad revenue space.