A new report claims Facebook is working on what sounds like a creepy mobile location tracker, even though more likely it's an app that will seek to be more successful than Apple's Find My Friends app for the iPhone. Using all that juicy GPS tracking in our smartphones, the Facebook app, which allegedly comes out in mid-March, would tell users when their friends were nearby — even when the app isn't open — according to two sources that spoke to Bloomberg's Douglas MacMillan.
But think about it: What sounds like a big privacy overstep that will definitely creep out a lot of people might actually work a lot like a handful of existing services, such as Google Latitude, Apple's Find My Friends, and even Facebook's short-lived Find Friends Nearby feature. MacMillan's sources tell him that the location-based app's team is headed up by former Googler Peter Deng, who has talked last year about the benefits of an app that "will tell you how far away the person is so you may adjust accordingly." Also working on the project are engineers from two start-ups bought by Facebook: Gawalla, whose technology helped build location-based Facebook photo posts last year, and Glancee, which focused on tracking rather than check-ins.
And assuming that this mystery app — "Locator," perhaps? — comes as a similar standalone download like Facebook's recently updated Messenger and the new Poke, it would necessarily have a complete opt-in policy: You either download the app and play along, or you don't — and, voilà, user privacy remains.
What remains less clear, however, is just how many Facebook users actually want to be pinged when their friends are nearby, or vice-versa. Apple's Find My Friends received a lot of criticism when it first debuted in 2011, and Facebook pulled its Find Friends Nearby experiment just a day after release.
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