Finding New Friends Nearby with Facebook: The Social Media Privacy Report

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Last weekend, Facebook discreetly launched a new mobile feature: Friendshake, a.k.a. Find Friends Nearby.  Initially available via the mobile website and then offered — while still subtly hidden — in the app version of Facebook, the feature was designed to allow users to find potential new friends located in local proximity.  And just as quickly and quietly as the feature appeared, it was pulled from the Facebook experience.

TechCrunch broke the story, when Ingrid Lunden reported the appearance of the service.  She describes the functionality, “Users have to be logged into Facebook… and then others who are near can pick each other up. You can see both your own friends, as well as those you may not know.” It appears that the goal of this product is to allow Facebook users to easily connect with new people they meet while out and about. TechCrunch spoke to Ryan Patterson, the engineer at Facebook responsible for the development of this technology, who said, “For me, the ideal use case for this product is the one where when you’re out with a group of people whom you’ve recently met and want to stay in contact with. Facebook search might be effective, or sharing your vanity addresses or business cards, but this tool provides a really easy way to exchange contact information with multiple people with minimal friction.”

There are a few privacy features in embedded into the feature, but they are minimal. MSNBC note, “you’ll have to authorize either the apps or your browser to access your current location. This doesn’t mean that you’re allowing either to reveal your location all the time though. As soon as you leave the Find Friends Nearby page, you’ll be off the radar once again.” Time Techland’s Keith Wagstaff further explains that once you leave the Find Friends Nearby page, you stop broadcasting your location, meaning that Facebook users can only find you if you were both logged into the page at the same time. He writes that Find Friends Nearby is “about making connections with people you met in real life” and not “about making random connections.”

Some critics have already come to the front lines voicing concerns about the privacy implications. Charles Ripley of PC World writes that the tool “blurs the line a bit between the online social network and real life.” He sums up his sentiments with this poignant thought, “It might be nice to know if one of your Facebook friends is nearby, but you don’t really want to broadcast your present location to every random stranger with a Facebook app.”

Whether for or against the feature, there is no debating that just two days after its launch, Facebook pulled Find Friends Nearby down. In an official statement to Wired magazine, Facebook said that it was just “testing” the functionality and it was not an official launch. However, chatter among the tech community remains that test or not, there had to be some concern over the privacy issues.

Whenever the relaunch occurs, as it surely will, the feature certainly needs some finesse. Wired warns, “When Facebook decides to relaunch Find Friends Nearby — potentially with deeper features — it will need to be careful. Location-based apps tend to get flack for being creepy. And a giant social network company that has already suffered privacy blows will need to be extra sensitive as not to upset its users.”

What do you think about Find Friend Nearby?

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Jillian Ryan

Jillian Ryan is PRIVATE WiFi's Director, Brand Communications and Social Strategy. With a passion for writing, the web, and fast-paced information exchanged via social networks, Jillian is also concerned about the ramifications of putting your life details and personal data into cyberspace. Follow her on Twitter: @Writing_Jillian.