Facebook Releases Controversial 'Friend Tracker' App
Facebook has officially released a new and somewhat controversial feature that allows users to track the location of their friends. But if used maliciously, the app raises major privacy concerns.
The application is called "Nearby Friends" and it uses location information collected by smartphones. Facebook says its goal is to make it simple for people to find their friends and meet up in real life. When it's enabled, Nearby Friends shows users a list of Facebook friends who have agreed to share their location.
The app can also alert a user if a friend comes within range (such as entering the same city or county). Facebook members can also use the map to see the distance between themselves and their friends, giving them the option of plotting a route for a meet-up.
Those who like the application say it can be handy in allowing groups of friends to find each other in high-traffic areas, such as a loud concert or crowded sporting event.
Security Experts Call App "Dangerous" and "Creepy"
Security experts Rebecca Abrahams and Dr. Stephen Bryen have penned their own blog post entitled "Facebook's 'Nearby Friends' Is a Really, Really Bad Idea," in which they argue that the feature "is pretty dangerous."
"It is sending your location information on a continuing basis into a network run by Facebook," Abrahams and Bryen note. "Among the problems: your GPS is always on if you use this app, meaning you can be followed by hackers, intruders or government agencies more or less at will." (Source: huffingtonpost.com)
As far as stalking is concerned, the Nearby Friends app is worrisome. For example, the app could be secretly installed on a phone without the owner's consent, and then used to report back tracking information to a stalker.
Last but not least, Facebook could aggregate the Nearby Friends tracking information for the purpose of serving up relevant advertisements. For its part, Facebook says that it does not use GPS to target ads "right now", but that doesn't mean it won't happen in the near future. (Source: thedrum.com)
New App Not Enabled by Default
The good news is that Nearby Friends isn't automatically enabled, meaning anyone interested in using the app will need to manually enable it. This means friends will not be able to see your location unless you go into Facebook's privacy settings and turn the Nearby Friends feature on.
Some of those past mistakes include releasing user data to advertisers and constantly changing terms of service that left many members confused about how Facebook handled their most sensitive information.
What's Your Opinion?
What do you think of the Nearby Friends app? Do you think it's a good idea or a bad idea? Would you be willing to use the application, and if so, when and where do you think it would be most useful? Do you think it's likely that Facebook will use the data collected by the Nearby Friends app for advertising purposes, such as relevant ads based on GPS location?
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