Facebook is reportedly working on a location-tracking service that lets the social network follow the locations of its users, even if the app is not open. So how will this affect the average Facebook user?
Two sources told Bloomberg that Facebook's (NASDAQ: FB) rumored application was solely designed to help users find their nearby friends without actively needing to open an application. The sources say that Facebook's team is prepping the software update, which is led by Product Director Peter Deng, an ex-Google employee. The team is also comprised of engineers from Glancee, a location-tracking company Facebook bought out in May, and Gowalla, another location-based social network Facebook bought back in December 2011. The app is expected to be released in March 2013.
Facebook’s privacy issues have been well documented, and most users aren’t happy with the tech giant's lack of emphasis on user privacy – including Mark Zuckerberg’s own sister – and this new app should only further instigate these same critics, who believe the social network is using private data to make money for itself and its stockholders.
How will Facebook’s new location-tracking app affect the user experience?
By having the company track your location 24/7 using your mobile device, virtually everything you do will be documented by the company, and broadcasted to your friends nearby. Say goodbye to anonymity; with this app, Facebook potentially becomes the modern equivalent of Big Brother.
According to Facebook’s Terms of Service agreement, which every user legally needs to sign before they’re allowed to participate in the social network, the company can already track and share your location automatically to your friends, and broadcast it to those nearby. Facebook doesn't need your permission; you already signed it away.
It’s important to note that Facebook already has a similar service available, called "Places." Facebook Places allows you to “check-in” to a location and lets you know if a friend is nearby so you can message them and potentially meet up. Techhive says the rumored service “sounds like an extension” of existing features in the Facebook mobile app, but it might be more than that.
Automatic 24/7 sharing of location data seems to be more omnipresent than Facebook Places, and could be more harmful than Places. With Facebook’s Check-In mechanism, users are inputting their location when and where they want to, so the control of the function remains in the hands of the users. Now, with Facebook’s new rumored app, the control is taken away from the users and given to the company, which could bring about some backlash and negative ramifications for a company that has continually been criticized for its privacy features.
Facebook just released Graph Search last month, a feature with its own set of unanswered privacy-related questions, and now it looks like Facebook’s going to release another major feature in less than a month.
It’s clear that Facebook is trying to monetize its newfound gold-mine: mobile users. According to Facebook's earnings report released last Wednesday, there are 1.06 billion active Facebook users; among those, 618 million users visit the social network site daily, and 157 million of those users check Facebook from their mobile devices -- marking the first time there were more mobile Facebook users than desktop users. While the company has been able to increase the percentage of its revenue made from its mobile apps – documenting a jump from 14 percent in the third quarter to 23 percent -- Facebook remains determined to increase the amount of revenue earned from mobile users.
Facebook has already begun to monetize its mobile users. Buzzfeed gave a great overview of how exactly Facebook uses mobile advertisements to target users based on their location and habits. Currently, users can opt out of this feature if they want, but it's a little bit of a hassle. To turn the function off, you'll need to go in and manually disable from every single advertiser, one at a time. For instance, in the advertisement boxes, there is a tiny "X" located at the top right hand corner. Clicking that brings up a drop-down menu with two options: "Hide" and "Hide all." The only way to hide all advertisements is by clicking "Hide all" -- for each company advertising on Facebook. Needless to say, the process is a bit tedious. It's unknown whether or not Facebook will have a similar feature for its automatic location-sharing app, but, if it does, it should help quell some of the privacy concerns that will surely come up.
With 24/7 automatic location-sharing, Facebook can get data from its 1 billion-plus users and sell said information to advertisers, which should help the company rake in huge sums of mobile revenue. In addition, there could be the possibility that Facebook and advertisers could pair up to share deals with users, similar to a Groupon-like service, and alert users when a restaurant or coffee shop nearby has a deal for a free bagel. Techhive notes that similar deals already exist with Facebook's check-in feature, but, with this upcoming mobile app allowing automatic location-sharing, this feature could potentially be very lucrative for Zuckerberg & Co.