Facebook App Adds Yet Another Powerful Tracking Feature

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
06/16/2014
       
Facebook App Adds Yet Another Powerful Tracking Feature

Facebook has updated its mobile platform to include an ambient proximity tool called Nearby Friends. The tech blog Techcrunch describes the new feature:

It lets you constantly share the current neighborhood where you are and the approximate distance between you and your friends or whoever you authorize. It also lets you share your exact, real-time location with specific friends for a few hours or indefinitely. The feature is designed to make it easy to meet up with friends.

Real-time location tracking? No wonder Techcrunch adds that the new service “has major privacy implications.” 

In Facebook’s defense, the location tracking feature is “opt in,” meaning that users will have to activate the service, rather than having to deactivate the service if they didn’t want their location revealed.

This policy decision is likely the result of a penalty imposed in 2011 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that requires the social media mammoth to submit to 20 years of privacy audits conducted by the agency. Another provision of the penalty mandates that any new features offered by Facebook must be “opt in.”

Opt-in or not, Facebook’s mobile app (available on both Android and iOS platforms) is becoming a powerful, portable monitoring tool.

As The New American reported late last month:

A recent “improvement” to the Facebook mobile app is being praised by tech bloggers, but it seems the bigger, more sinister side of the upgrade is being ignored.

In the “coming weeks,” the social media behemoth will roll out a service that, according to an announcement on its blog, will give users “the option to use your phone’s microphone to identify what song is playing or what show or movie is on TV.”

That means if you want to share that you’re listening to your favorite Beyoncé track or watching the season premiere of Game of Thrones, you can do it quickly and easily, without typing.

Certainly, as the company claims, that is a handy little tool for recording the sounds entering into a smartphone’s microphone with nearly no human interaction required.

There is something disturbing in the potential uses of this option, however. The frightening application of the app is, accidentally it seems, explained in a Huffington Post article promoting the technology: “Facebook Can Now Listen To Everything You Listen To.”

Since implementing the ambient sound recognition feature, Facebook has seen a significant backlash from users wary of having such a powerful surveillance system in their pocket.

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