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Facebook lets users publish as much or as little of their personal information as they want. You can snap a picture, or check into a location, and then go offline.
But a new Facebook service would allow the company to keep track of you even after the application is closed. Katherine Jacobsen reports:
The new service is an app that you can download. It allows you to send your location to all of your Facebook friends, all the time, even when you’re not on Facebook.
Douglas MacMillan is a reporter from Bloomberg Businessweek. He’s seen the new app and says its more invasive than the current “check-in” feature.
“The big difference would be, you know, having essentially a breadcrumb of you following you around everywhere you go, as opposed to these little snapshots of where you are,” he said.
The little breadcrumbs use the same kind of GPS technology already built into your phone that helps you find a nearby restaurant or the closest subway station.
MacMillan says that these kinds of applications could be really practical. Say you get separated from your friend downtown. With this app, you can automatically locate him or her just by logging into Facebook.
“Even when their app is closed, and even when the phone is put away in your pocket, you’re going to be reading GPS coordinates of your friends as they move about the city or a music concert or festival,” he said.
The app would also let companies see how effective their advertisements are. Say you see a Foot Locker add on Facebook and then you go to a Foot Locker.
“Well, wouldn’t it be nice if facebook could connect those dots and realize that instead of clicking on that ad, you were inspired by that ad to go walk into Foot Locker,” MacMillan said.
“It is increasingly trivial to collect and analyze that sort of data in a very short period of time.”
That’s Emily Bell from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. She says if Facebook could sell this kind of connection to advertisers, it could mean big bucks. Since the company went public last year, it needs to prove it can make money.
“Free services of Facebook have to be paid for somehow, and they tend to pay with your data,” Bell said.
Most Facebook users have gotten used to the idea that the site pools their data for advertising. Bell points out that cell phone companies already have access to users’ locations. If Facebook doesn’t make this data public, someone else will.
Sarah Downey is a senior privacy strategist at Abine, a company that makes apps to prevent people from getting tracked.
“This is just one more point in an ongoing trend where facebook erodes everybody’s privacy,” she said.
But even Downey says it’s unlikely that people are going to start deleting their Facebook accounts.
“Facebook’s like the party that you don’t really want to go to. But you know that everybody you know will be there, so you keep going,” she said.
A party of over one billion users. Downey advises people on Facebook to keep on the look-out for changes to privacy settings in the coming month.