Privacy advocates must surely be girding their loins even as we speak. Bloomberg is now reporting that Facebook is preparing to release a friend finder app that will track your location.
According to “two people with knowledge of the matter,” the new app will see release in mid-March, and will leverage Facebook’s Nearby functionality to serve as an always-on tracker that will let users find their friends via their smartphones. Such a service would allow people to connect at local events or, you know, flat out stalk one another as they see fit. And, of course, Facebook can use your location to better serve more relevant ads.
The app is already drawing comparisons to similar products like Apple’s Find My Friends, Google Latitude, and last year’s SXSW darling Highlight. Even Foursquare’s Radar feature allows people to track what venues their friends are going to in real-time. Yet no solution has managed to break into the mainstream as users may be wary about how their location data might be abused.
However, according to Facebook’s recently-announced fourth quarter earnings, mobile users are now outnumbering desktop users for the first time. For a “mobile first” company with 1 billion active users (and one that hinted at mobile experiences being a focus in the coming year), this move could make GPS tracking among users a real trend.
Privacy analysts may have some reason to worry. Despite Facebook devoting 10 percent of their server power to privacy issues, it remains unclear if the company will allow users to opt out of the feature. What’s more, Facebook reserves the right to retain your location data so long as it deems it useful for its services. The app could be seen as a privacy nightmare if it suffers a security breach that compromises users’ locations.
Or not. It all hinges on how people decide to use the app when it lands in March. If opting out is available, it might be D.O.A.