Facebook reveals new geo tool to find your Nearby Friends

10 Nov 2015

Facebook has revealed a new tool that will allow users to see if their friends are nearby and want to hang out.

Out and about and you want to see who’s around? Well Facebook has just launched a new optional feature called Nearby Friends that helps you see on a map who’s nearby.

“If you turn on Nearby Friends, you’ll occasionally be notified when friends are nearby, so you can get in touch with them and meet up,” explained Andrea Vaccari, product manager with Facebook.

“For example, when you’re headed to the movies, Nearby Friends will let you know if friends are nearby so you can see the movie together or meet up afterward.”

While the feature may cause those who value their privacy to shudder or may seem like the ideal tool for stalkers, remember it is optional.

Users can choose who can see if you’re nearby, such as close friends or those on a specific friends list, and it can be turned on and off any time.

“Sharing your location with Nearby Friends goes two ways — you and your friends both have to turn on Nearby Friends and choose to share with each other to see when you’re nearby,” Vaccari said.

“Your friends will only be able to see that you’re nearby if you share this info with them and vice versa.”

Users who turn on Nearby Friends can also choose to share a precise location with particular friends that stays live for a set period of time, such as an hour.

“The friend you choose will see exactly where you are on a map, which helps you find each other. Then you can meet up and spend time together,” Vaccari said.

The new feature will be rolling out to Facebook users on Android and iOS in the US first in the coming weeks.


No Belgian chocolate cookies for Facebook though

The timing of the launch coincides with a ruling in which a Belgian court has given Facebook 48 hours to stop tracking people online that do not have Facebook accounts or risk fines of up to $269,000 a day. It was alleged Facebook placed a cookie on users’ devices that follows them for up to two years and tells Facebook whenever they visit the social network.

The court order follows a case lodged by Belgian’s privacy regulator, the Belgian Privacy Commission, alleging Facebook indiscriminately tracks internet users when they visit pages on the site or click like or share even if they are not members.

Facebook said it would appeal the decision. It said the cookie it uses – the datr cookie – was safe and has been used for more than five years to keep Facebook’s 1.5bn user base secure.

The move follows a decision a month ago by the European Court that the EU-US Safe Harbour deal allowing firms to transfer European personal data to the US was invalid because it didn’t properly protect users’ data from being accessed by spy agencies.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years