Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (www.wsj.com) ran a small article about the new App coming to Facebook that uses geolocating technology to allow users to be notified when they are near friends. This service will slowly be rolled out in the United States on Thursday.
According to recent news articles about the app, it has to be selected by the Facebook user so it will not automatically be activated on Facebook. The app will not display an exact location but will alert the user that a friend is within a half mile radius. It does allow for a Facebook user to disclose an exact location but this is another setting that the user must turn on and it will only display the location for an hour.
As with any new App or advance in technology there are two sides to every story. On the up side, being able to know my friends are close and we can connect can be a great advantage. Maybe it makes a family member easier to find at the mall or airport. Perhaps I can have an unexpected cup of coffee with a friend who happens to be in the neighborhood.
Facebook is not the first face in this game. There are a number of geolocating dating apps or hook-up apps such as Tinder or Grindr. These apps are specifically created for the purpose of meeting others for dating or sex. Facebook’s app, though not designed for this purpose, can be used in the same fashion.
When any person, particularly a minor, uses an app with geolocating features, there is always some cause for concern. I am not an alarmist but am an advocate for awareness. If the Facebook user has a wide array of friends, perhaps some that they do not actually know in real life, and they activate the Friend Locator, any other friend with the app activated can see them. Though the risk is very low, this makes minors vulnerable to connecting with adults who may want to meet with them for sexual purposes.
Facebook has employed some safeguards in this app to ensure that it is not used for predatory purposes. The user must be 18 years of age or older to use Friend Locator. Additionally, the user has to opt in to the app and therefore will be using it knowingly. The app will be slowly unveiled so that immediate use may not be available for many Facebook users.
As always, be aware. If you are a parent whose child uses Facebook, make sure that their age is appropriately listed on the account. Also, have a talk with them about the new App. Find out what they think about it and how they might use it. Some studies suggest that teens are more aware of online safety than adults think they are.
For more information also see: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2607500/Facebook-launches-new-service-share-exact-location-friends-insists-optional.html.