Facebook’s ‘Find Friends Nearby’ – is it opening a new can of worms around privacy?

25 Jun 2012

Facebook has introduced a clever geosocial mobile and web service called ‘Find Friends Nearby’ that lets users discover existing or new friends that are nearby.

The service comes on the heels of Facebook’s acquisition two months ago of Glancee, developer of a technology called Friendshake that allows users to find new friends nearby.

The idea of the new service, available via both the mobile web and as a URL on your computer’s web browser, is to help Facebook users grow their network of friends.

It is early days for the new location-aware service and it is hard to know what Facebook’s users will make of the ability to be discovered by new people, or maybe people they are keen to avoid.

The technology works by using the GPS technology in mobile devices to find out who is around. At the time of writing, the service didn’t appear to be working in Ireland.

Do you want people to know where you are?

I get the sense this could open a whole new can of worms for Facebook on the privacy front and in order for it to be accepted an opt-out option needs to be provided.

Some location-aware apps have had success, such as popular gay dating app Grindr, and an app aimed at all iPhone users based on interests Blendr was also launched last year.

The tech news wires recently have been buzzing with stories about social and mobile apps that have allowed sexual predators, for example, to locate potential victims.

Teenage community Habbo.com recently lost a key investor following a Channel 4 report exposing chat of a sexually explicit nature, while flirting app Skout has suspended its teenage service after three rape cases were tied to the app.

The introduction of ‘Find Friends Nearby’ is the latest in a slew of features rolled out by Facebook in recent weeks, including previews, the ability to edit updates and an innovative Camera app, to name but a few.

All of this is clearly aimed at locking in the users to the Facebook experience, but could ‘Find Friends Nearby’ be a step too far?

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