What You Should Know About Facebook's Nearby Friends Feature

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“Location, location, location” has long been the motto of real estate agents, but it seems to also be one of Facebook’s favorite mantras as well. They seem to be constantly rolling out new features that take advantage of your phone’s location-awareness capabilities.

Location tagging in status updates, location-based advertising, geotagged pictures, etc. There always seems to be some new feature that takes advantage of Facebook knowing where you are.

 These whiz bang features can both delights users but also creates privacy concerns for them as well.

Recently, Facebook rolled out its “Nearby Friends" feature which lets you locate friends who might be close by, in case you want to meet them for lunch or something. Facebook rolled this feature out without a lot of fanfare, and didn’t really explain it or the privacy implications very well in my opinion. Let’s look at the Nearby Friends feature and some of the potential security issues associated with it.

The Nearby Friend Feature Comes With a Catch

It seems like, as with a lot of features on Facebook, there is always some kind of catch or privacy-related caveat that you have to consider. Take hiding your likes for instance, it’s kind of an all or nothing deal. You can either hide all of your “likes” or none of them. You can’t currently, as of 2014, hide individual likes. You have to either share all your likes (including the weird ones) or not share any of them at all.

The “Nearby Friends” feature has a similar catch. When you turn “Nearby Friends” on,  Facebook warns you that you are also turning on “location history” at the same time. It also tells you that by turning on location history, you are creating a history of your precise location. Yes, that’s right, by enabling this feature you are creating a digital record of your travels.

It’s just like that song “Every step your take, every move you make, Facebook’s watching you”.

The question you have to ask yourself: “Is the Nearby Friends feature worth me providing Facebook with a digital history of my whereabouts?”

There is no way currently to enable Nearby Friends while disabling location history. I’m not sure why these features are tied together in such a way, but they are.

You can, according to Facebook, delete things from your location history, and you can also delete your entire history, but you have to remember to do this periodically if you want to continue to cover your tracks.

Use At Your Own Risk

Obviously, the “Nearby Friends” feature has a host of implications, especially for cheating spouses, overbearing parents, and people who say they’re in one place but their location information tells a different story. If you enable this feature, even though you can restrict your precise location, your general location is available to your friends (or whomever you choose to share it with). Thankfully it doesn’t appear to allow you to choose “public” as a sharing option.

Enabling / Disabling The Nearby Friends Feature

If you want to check the status of the “Nearby Friends” feature (in order to enable or disable it), open the Facebook app on your Android or iOS mobile device.

Choose the “More” icon from the bar at the bottom of the screen and select the “Nearby Friends” icon. Once the “Nearby Friends” list appears, tap the settings gear icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen. Use the toggle at the top of the screen to enable or disable the “Nearby Friends” feature.

Exact Location Sharing

If you want to share your exact location with a friend (so that they can meet you somewhere for instance) then you can do so by tapping the compass icon next to them in the “Nearby Friends” listing. Once you tap this icon, you’ll be able to set how long you want the duration of precise location sharing to last.

This value can be anywhere from 2 hours all the way to pretty much forever or “until you choose to stop”.