About Facebook’s new “Nearby Friends” feature

Facebook‘s overall strategy seems to involve owning as much of your attention as possible. They’ve got you when you’re bored, when you need to message someone, when you want an immersive experience, and now they have you when you want to meet with friends too.

On April 18th, the social media giant began a roll out of the opt-in feature “Nearby Friends.” Users can share their approximate location with a selected group of friends for a specified amount of time. To access the feature, users will need to hit the “More” icon in the bottom-right corner, and hit “Nearby Friends” located just above “Nearby Places.” If you have already turned the feature on, you can also access it by opening the friends menu by swiping from the right, and you may also see a News Feed story showing you a list of friends nearby. “Nearby Friends” is currently only available in the US.

The new addition to Facebook’s platform has certainly caused waves among those who are privacy-conscious, but Facebook product manager Andrea Vaccari told TNW’s Emil Protalinski that the feature is off by default, and that, to see other’s locations, users have to switch it on and explicitly share their location with each other. Andrea Vaccari added that, once the location-sharing features are switched on, users can see not where others are, but whether they are close.

Another interesting part of “Nearby Friends” is that you’ll see more or less specific information depending on how near or far others are. For example, if one of your friends is overseas you will only see what city they are in, but if they are closer to you, you’ll see what neighbourhood they’re in.

Despite Facebook’s assurances that “Nearby Friends” is totally private, it has emerged that the social media company will use your location to target you with ads. When you turn on the feature, Facebook compiles a history of your location, and yesterday the company admitted to Josh Constine, TechCrunch, that it will eventually use that history for marketing purposes.

Despite it’s numerous privacy concerns, this feature might help Facebook facilitate (and subsequently have some control over) offline relationships. It has the potential to unlock real-time location-based interaction in a way that Foursquare never could. Let’s just hope a few users don’t mess it up for everyone else.

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