Facebook unveils the opt-in Nearby Friends feature

Simone Wolberg

Facebook recently introduced a new “Nearby Friends” feature, representing what is perhaps a departure from the past in that it is an “opt-in” instead of an “opt-out” feature.

Nearby Friends is built on a platform developed by Glancee, a location-sharing company Facebook acquired in 2012. This new feature uses GPS to calculate users’ exact locations. A user who has opted into the Nearby Friends feature on their smartphone will be able to view their friends’ approximate location in mile increments as long as they have opted in as well. Users will also be able to limit sharing their location to only those friends they select.

One of the main purposes of Nearby Friends, according to Facebook’s press release on April 17, is to get people to spend more time face-to-face rather than online, somewhat counterintuitive for an online business.

Courtesy of Facebook
Courtesy of Facebook

Jessica Flaum, sophomore, said she wouldn’t use the feature because she wouldn’t like any of her friends knowing her constant location, and vice versa.  “I don’t think I would want to use the new function…just seems like an invasion of privacy.  However, it does seems like a cool idea and I am sure some people would be interested in it, but it’s just not for me.”

Tory Hoehn, sophomore, said that Nearby Friends is a pointless feature and an invasion of privacy, even if it is an opt-in model.  “I get Facebook made [Nearby Friends] to make it easier to find your friends and such, but if they’re your close friends, they’d be able to just tell you where they are…I would not use use this function because I feel it crosses a certain unwritten boundary between private and public life,” Hoehn said.

The Nearby Friends feature records users’ exact locations onto the Location History section of their individual activity logs, even if they leave the app, according to Facebook’s Help Center.  Only the user themselves can view or delete Location History.

Although this new feature is only available for people 18 or over, some Redwood students and others will no doubt bypass this restriction due to having already falsely registered adult birthdays on Facebook. Even though these students could opt into Nearby Friends, they are hesitant due to privacy concerns.

Audrey Miglietta, senior, said that although Nearby Friends looks appealing at first, she would not use the app too because of privacy issues.

James Cruz, sophomore, said he wouldn’t use the feature because it makes him feel uncomfortable.  “I believe it’s a bit weird that [Facebook] can make an option like that.  It makes me feel like a stalker if I did turn it on.  It puts me on edge to know that I can see where my friends are at any given time if they turn it on.”

Although most Redwood students interviewed said that they would not use the feature, one sophomore student, Michael Schwartz, said he would use it when he becomes eligible at 18. “If you don’t want your friends to know where you are for a certain moment, just turn the feature off for the mean time and be a bit responsible about it, then turn it on when necessary,” Schwartz said. “You could call up a friend, but everybody knows life isn’t always that simple…It’d be much easier to spend time with a friend when you can already see that they are within a close distance to you.”