Facebook abandons ‘Find Friends Nearby’ app

26 Jun 2012

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Just as the world was coming to grips with the idea they could find and be found via a geosocial app that found friends nearby, Facebook has decided to abandon the ‘Find Friends Nearby’ feature.

I’ve no doubt that this kind of technology is inevitable, but it is clear to anyone who has watched Facebook’s meteoric rise closely that the privacy implications would have opened a Pandora’s box, not to mention a slew of real-life dramas.

The ‘Find Friends Nearby’ feature was really a skunkworks project that evolved out of a hackathon project at Facebook.

The idea was to find nearby friends or people you might know.

But the burning heart of privacy debates is often the issue of whether people want to be found and, of course, their right to be forgotten.

A ‘Find Friends Nearby’ feature would have to be opt-in with a ‘Find Me’ button that would be as easy to deactivate as activate.

A stalker’s paradise?

Otherwise the connotations of a ‘stalker’s paradise’ or some unwelcome real-life incidents could visit the social network’s door and the door of ordinary users.

But the geosocial technology to let users find friends is already here. Apple has a Find Friends app on its iPhone 4S. To use it, you need to log in with your Apple ID and manually add friends who also agree to be discovered via GPS.

The benefits of this kind of technology could easily outweigh the privacy issues – such as simply finding friends in a crowded place on a night out or parents could know where their (increasingly) smartphone-toting kids are or if they leave a geographic area.

But having been bruised and beaten in many a privacy skirmish, if Facebook does go down the geosocial route it would need to do so on its own, carefully prepared, terms.

Geo-social image via Shutterstock

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com