Bloomberg reports that the app would run in the background on a device even when the app isn’t open and would be designed to not only track where your friends are, but also deliver location-relevant ads, deals, and promotions.
The knee-jerk reaction here is one of privacy-violating horror--all of your Facebook friends can just...track you? That’s not to mention the discomfort of high-level use of the data that Facebook culls from you and uses to send you advertisements. There’s something seriously off-putting about walking past a new sushi place and having Facebook suddenly send you a coupon for half off a meal there.
Or maybe it’s really not all that disturbing after all. Many mobile users of Facebook already allow (or encourage) location information to be included with their posts, and there are apps such as FourSquare whose primary purpose is to “check in” everywhere you go so everyone knows where you are at all times.
Indeed, location tracking is something that plenty of users will be excited about. What puts people off is the idea that Facebook is foisting this location tracking on everyone, a sort of Big Brother switch that gets flipped on for all one billion Facebook users--but common sense (and Bloomberg’s report) tell us that this won’t be the case.
You’ll be able to switch the feature off, although it’s not clear whether it will be an opt-out or opt-in feature; based on Facebook’s history, we’re guessing it will be the former. It’s not like there aren’t attractive uses for such a feature. Need to find your friends for a downtown meetup? Late for a meeting off-site where your coworker and Facebook friend is waiting? Wondering where your teenager is at 1am? (Okay, there’s some gray area on that last one. Feel free to discuss.)\
Besides, what Facebook is really interested in is the advertising and promotion side of things. While it may feel like you’re being watched when you get that sushi restaurant coupon, there’s something to be said for targeted ads that you actually might find useful and valuable. It’s also a powerful way for local businesses to build a customer base.
Like everything Facebook does, there’s a delicate balance that must be struck, and there’s an upside and a downside to new features like a geo-tracking app. We hope that Facebook does the right thing and gives users the proper controls over such an app.
Finally, note well that Bloomberg is calling this location feature an “app”, which could mean that it’s a standalone product apart from Facebook’s typical offerings. In that case, all user fears are moot, because you would have to download the app yourself in order to be tracked.