Facebook Is Getting a Little too Close for Comfort

Facebook
Facebook

Facebook FB -1.31% users will soon be able to receive notices on their mobile app when they’re near friends, signaling an effort by the online social network to play a bigger role in real-world interactions.

Users will have to opt in separately to the feature, called “Nearby Friends,” and agree to give Facebook permission to track them at all times, even when not logged into Facebook.

Facebook said it will introduce the service gradually in coming weeks. Users of Facebook’s mobile app will get notifications prompting them to opt in.

Some privacy advocates expressed concerns about the implications for users of opting into the service. Chris Conley, a policy attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said Facebook should keep users “regularly aware” of everyone with whom they’re sharing location. Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, called on the Federal Trade Commission to review the product.

A Facebook spokeswoman said users will receive regular reminders about Nearby Friends, and that the company regularly discusses its products and features with the FTC and other regulators.

With the new feature, Facebook is entering an already crowded space occupied by the likes of casual dating app Tinder and social check-in service Foursquare. Radar, a smartphone app released last year, tells users where their Facebook friends are. Cloak, on the other hand, uses Foursquare and Instagram to locate friends – and help people avoid them.

Rival social network TwitterTWTR +1.33% in December tested a feature that allowed users to see tweets from nearby, whether or not the user followed the tweeter.

Facebook briefly tested a feature similar to Nearby Friends in June 2012, but quickly stopped after news reports of the test surfaced. At the time, Facebook said the effort was an experiment.

This time, Facebook is hoping to do better by leveraging its more than one billion users. Nearby Friends grew out of Facebook’s 2012 acquisition of mobile app Glancee.

Andrea Vaccari, Glancee’s former chief executive, said developing Nearby Friends posed two technological hurdles: making sure the Facebook app didn’t overwhelm users with too many notifications or drain the phone’s battery.

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Source: Wall Street Journal | REED ALBERGOTTI

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