Facebook Announces Location-Sharing Feature 'Nearby Friends'

Facebook's pending Nearby Friends feature will give users the option to share their nonspecific or specific locations with certain friends.

Facebook Announces Location-Sharing Feature 'Nearby Friends'

It's got the who and what of social networking covered, and now Facebook wants to know where its users are.

Thursday the social network announced Nearby Friends, an opt-in location feature to make meeting up with people on your friends list easier.

Users define their broadcast level: everyone on their friends list, close friends or just specific people. They have to turn it on, their friends have to turn it on, and both have to agree to share their locations. (Via Facebook)

Users will be able to share their whereabouts with several degrees of precision. According to TechCrunch, the app appears to list locations of nearby friends by every tenth of a mile, down to a minimum catch-all distance of less than half a mile.

There's also an option to share precise location data with specific people, at which point the app will list your exact location on friends' maps.

The rollout has, predictably, triggered discussion of security and openness, like Valleywag's line: "Spending time with pals has never sounded so ominous or required so many privacy settings."

Facebook is being careful in announcing the new feature, going so far as to include the word "optional" in its press release headline.

Advertising Age points out Facebook isn't discussing future plans for targeted advertising but says right now it's not going to use the GPS data from Nearby Friends to serve up ads.

Still, some industry watchers worry. Despite the built-in controls, users are passively sending out their location, with less control over who finds it or when they see it. GPS and accelerometer readings are going to drain battery, and while Facebook isn't sending location data to advertisers "right now," it's clearly valuable to them.

"Until Facebook delivers proper value to its users in exchange for learning their location, it's not clear why anyone should make this tradeoff." (Via ReadWrite)

But a writer for Re/code is cautiously optimistic Nearby Friends is just obscure enough — and just secure enough — to work.

"It's a clever compromise, divulging just enough information about where you are without advertising your exact position. My guess is Facebook will dodge privacy hawks this time around."

Facebook says the feature will be available in its apps for iOS and Android in the coming weeks.