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Sharing personal details on Facebook is nothing new. Sharing them non-stop, however, is.

Throughout the history of its existence, Facebook has always encouraged its users to publicize as much personal information as possible. While starting with uploading a profile picture and the date of birth, Facebook has expanded its functionality and introduced such sharing tools, as news feed, tagging friends on photos, face recognition, posting the current location and so on. As if these tools did not make sharing the information personal enough, Facebook has introduced a new function named “Nearby Friends”.

According to Kurt Wagner, a social media reporter for Mashable, “Nearby Friends” is “a new feature[that] uses the geolocation technology in your smart phone to determine when you are close to one of your Facebook friends. When activated, the feature will send periodic notifications alerting you to friends who are nearby”. Unlike the feature of Facebook, which allows its users to post and share the location on their Facebook page at the moments they choose, the “Nearby Friends”, once turned on, will display one’s location and movements on the map on a constant basis. As Andrea Vaccari, the product manager for the new feature, claims, “The mission of Facebook is to connect people, to bring people together. Nearby Friends sort of pushes that forward by making it a little easier to find new opportunities to meet your friends while you’re out and about”. At the moment the feature is opt-in, which means that it will not be automatically activated in mobile Facebook apps and can be used only if the user makes a conscious decision to manually turn it on. According to the words of Vaccari, he and Facebook are aware of the fact that some people might not be willing to use the “Nearby Friends” feature, claiming: “We are totally OK with people not wanting to opt in right away”.

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An image taken by Flickr user Gesa Henselmans

Despite the intention of Facebook to use “Nearby Friends” as the feature that will bring people even closer together, its ability to send notifications of, generally speaking, one’s every single step is both very disturbing and controversial. Because of this fact the feature, in four days after its announcement (“Nearby Friends” was announced on Thursday, April 17th) has already received plenty of criticism. In the Huffington Post article named “Facebook’s ‘Nearby Friends’ Is a Really, Really Bad Idea”, the name of which speaks for itself, Rebecca Abrahams, a Chief Communications Officer at Ziklag Systems, LLC and Dr. Stephen Bryen, Chairman of Ziklag Systems, talk about the negative sides of the feature. In their critical review of the “Nearby Friends” feature, the authors of the article list such major flaws of the feature, as the GPS being constantly turned on, “meaning you can be followed by hackers, intruders or government agencies more or less at will”. According to the authors, “Facebook itself, which is not a secure system, also can be targeted by the same folks”.

All of the criticism presented in the article is certainly fair, considering the fact that users’ Facebook accounts are not hundred percent secure and can be hacked by those skillful enough to do so. While previously hacking into someone’s Facebook account would only give the hacker as much information as the owner of the account has decided to post on it, the introduction of “Nearby Friends” allows to track users’ movements, learn the behavioral patterns and, possibly, use the gathered data for the purposes harmful for the one, whose account has been hacked. While one always has the option to turn the feature off, to understand the danger of “Nearby Friends” one only has to think of the “News Feed” story, which, after being introduced, met a lot of criticism, but, after some time, has been fully implemented into everyone’s Facebook profile. While the “News Feed”, just as the “Nearby Friends”, can be turned off, only a small portion of Facebook users is actually aware of that.

Certainly, despite all of the criticism, the “Nearby Friends” is not an evil tool developed by Facebook in order to keep an eye on every single one of us. With the right approach and justified security precautions, “Nearby Friends” can be used as a great tool to connect with your friends and bring the technological communications to the next level. While it does not sound too complicated, it is safe to assume that these precautions will not be taken by everyone and many will suffer due to someone exploiting their mistakes. Therefore, the big question is how cautious do we want to be in our everyday use of technology in order not to suffer from it?

 

For the detailed description of the “Nearby Friends” feature, please visit http://mashable.com/2014/04/17/facebook-nearby-friends/

For the full article “Facebook is a Really, Really Bad Idea” by Abrahams and Bryen, please visit  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-abrahams/facebooks-nearby-friends_b_5179044.html?utm_hp_ref=technology&ir=Technology

A featured image taken by Flickr user Melina Sampaio Manfrinatti

 

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