What You Should Know About Facebook's Nearby Friends Feature

Be aware of privacy concerns about location sharing

Vector illustration of USA made up of network users
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It seems that Facebook borrowed the “location, location, location” mantra from real estate. The company is constantly rolling out new features that take advantage of your smartphone’s location-awareness capabilities.

Location tagging in status updates, location-based advertising, geotagged pictures—all of these features take advantage of Facebook knowing where you are. These features delight users but create privacy concerns for them.

Facebook's Nearby Friends locates 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 explain it or the privacy implications clearly. The Nearby Friends feature comes with potential security issues associated with it.

The Nearby Friend Feature Comes With a Catch

As with a lot of features on Facebook, the Nearby Friends feature has a privacy-related caveat that you need to consider.

When you turn on Nearby Friends, Facebook warns you that you are also turning on location history at the same time. It 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 like that song “Every step your take, every move you make, Facebook’s watching you.”

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

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

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. Fortunately, the feature doesn’t allow you to choose “public” as a sharing option.

Enabling or Disabling the Nearby Friends Feature

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

On an Android Device:

  1. Tap the three-horizontal-line menu icon on the Facebook app screen.

  2. Tap Nearby Friends.

  3. Tap the slider to turn Nearby Friends on or off.

On an iOS Device:

  1. Tap Settings > Privacy > Location Services on your iOS device.

  2. Use the slider at the top of the screen to turn on (or off) location services.

  3. Tap Share My Location.

  4. Tap the slider next to Share My Location.

  5. Select which of your iOS devices you want to share your location from. Typically, this is your phone, but it could be your iPad, for example.

  6. Restart the Facebook app for the iPhone.

Exact Location Sharing

If you want to share your exact location with a friend so you can meet somewhere, you can do so by tapping the compass icon next to the friend's name on the Nearby Friends list. Once you tap this icon, you set how long you want the duration of precise location sharing to last. This value can be anywhere from two hours all the way to pretty much forever or “until you choose to stop.”