Facebook Drops Location Tools

John Lister's picture

Facebook is to ditch some tools which tracked a user's location. It seems to be more about the tools being little used than a sudden interest in boosting privacy.

The tools all involved tracking a user's location in real time and using the information to provide some sort of service. Perhaps the best known was "Nearby Friends" which lived up to its name, telling users if anyone they knew on Facebook (or at least anyone who also had the feature switched on) was in the area, allowing for semi-spontaneous meet-ups.

The tools also included localized weather alerts. In both cases, many users either weren't interested in the features or preferred to use a dedicated, specialist app on their phones.

Facebook says the tools will stop working after May 31. It will also stop collecting two sets of data that powered the tools. "Location History" is a chronological record of all the user's known locations gathered by Facebook. (Source: 9to5mac.com)

Location Tracked When App Closed

Meanwhile "Background Location" data let Facebook track the user's location even when they didn't have the app open. That was necessary (or at least very useful) for the Nearby Friends feature to work properly.

According to Facebook, users will be able to download their Location History data until August 1. At that point it says it will delete all Location History and Background Location data. (Source: theverge.com)

Some Location Data Remains

It's key to note that Facebook will continue using location data for other purposes. These include targeting advertisements (for example, for local restaurants when a user is traveling out of town) and for the Check In feature that posts when a user visits a specific business's location.

Facebook says the features are being removed "due to low usage." Some more cynical analysts have pointed to mobile platforms requiring app developers to share more detailed and prominent lists about what data they collect and use. Reducing location data use would make these lists shorter and less likely to raise eyebrows among users.

What's Your Opinion?

If you use Facebook, did you ever use these features? Are you confident you know whether and how app developers and websites track your location? Have you ever ditched or chosen not to install an app because of its data use?

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