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Facebook's Nearby Friends feature rolls out on Android, iOS

by Mark Tyson on 18 April 2014, 13:30

Tags: Facebook, PC

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Facebook has announced the launch of its new tool, Nearby Friends. This facility will be built into the social media giant's main app for Android and iOS and allows users to see which friends are in close proximity. The tool is said to be rolling out "over the coming weeks" in the US as an optional function for Facebook app users.

Some people will appreciate Nearby Friends as an easy way to meet up with their friends in real life. Other users may be glad to know that Facebook has perhaps learned from previous concerns regarding privacy problems as the feature is not turned on by default. It will therefore require a user to activate this live-tracking function in order to allow their friends to see where they are. There is also a choice for users as to whether they would like to share their location with all their Facebook friends, close friends or a customised list of people they feel comfortable with, further reducing possible tracking/stalking issues.

To access Nearby Friends in the Facebook app, users simply click on the 'More' icon in the lower-right corner and hit 'Nearby Friends' which will be located just above 'Nearby Places'. Once the feature has been turned on users can also access it by opening the friends menu by swiping in from the right of the screen.

To see an approximate location of someone requires them to also have the feature on and be willing to share this information with you. Occasional News Feed updates will show you a list of friends nearby too, as the app sketches out their location, approximately how far they are from the user's current location and a time stamp of when they were there. "The app learns where you spend most of your time, and it avoids sending notifications when you’re at those locations," says Facebook's product Manager Andrea Vaccari. 

According to an interview with Vaccari by The Next Web, the Nearby Friends feature shows "not where they are, but whether they are close." If you refer to the screenshots in this article, it will be clear that the feature does not pinpoint where exactly someone is, but focuses more on the distance they are from the user.

However, precise location sharing is also available through the tool, allowing users to inform their friends exactly where they are and of time duration. This can come in handy in situations such as music festivals, meeting in airports, or skiing in the mountains. If a user wants to share precise location with multiple friends at once, they will have to manually share it with each individual, a way for Facebook to make sure it was decided deliberately.

Nearby Friends could be said to be the result of Facebook's acquisition of Glancee, a location-based startup, back in May 2012. Vaccari is the former CEO of Glancee and this new feature was said to have been in the works for the past two years. Facebook has been testing this feature with the "vast majority" of the company's 6,500-plus employees for nearly 18 months and has been using their feedback to improve the functionality and polish of the notification algorithm.

"My hope is that people will see from their friends that there is actually a lot of value in this experience," Vaccari says. "I'm curious to see how people are going to use it."

HEXUS Forums :: 2 Comments

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Bah I really hate the idea of anything or anyone tracking my location, especially the likes of Facebook and Google. I disabled all that stuff ages ago. If I wanted to meet up with friends I whatsapp them or phone them and talk to them. I guess alot of people still like this feature though.
I like the feature. I don't trust the provider. I'm not sure if I can intrinsically trust any 3rd party with my location information. I would much prefer if the internet were just redecentralised and we had much more peer to peer interaction.