Some call it tracking, while others see it has the next logical step in social media. Facebook is launching a new feature called Nearby Friends, which allows users to see which of their friends is close by. The feature uses your cellphone's GPS system to track the location of friends. "What it's going to do is it's going to pinpoint within about a half mile, it's not going to be the exact location," says High-Tech Texan Michael Garfield. Facebook says the app is designed to give users an idea of friends who might be in their vicinity, if they want to meet up, share a ride, etc.
The idea of tracking other people's movements through social media raises immediate privacy concerns, but Facebook is hoping to quell those fears. The Nearby Friends feature is completely optional, and in order for friends to track each other both users would have to opt in to the service. In addition, Facebook says Nearby Friends will not be available for anyone under 18. Those safeguards make this feature much different than other social media apps like Tinder and Hinge which allow all users to track each other. "It only lets your friends see where you are, as opposed to the entire public," says Garfield. "And this is also something that you can control, it's up to you to turn it on."
Garfield tells KTRH traditional privacy concerns no longer apply in this era of smartphones and social media. "I think it's something we have to live with right now," he says. "Listen, we know that all our smartphones, as soon as they're connected to the Internet, our cellphone companies and potentially the government can find us." Besides the possible use of tracking technology for nefarious purposes, Garfield notes it does have potential benefits. "It also could be used for better purposes, say finding a missing child or an elderly person who don't know where they are, so it could actually do some good rather than bad."
Listen to the High-Tech Texan Michael Garfield weekdays on KPRC AM 950.