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Facebook Risks Fresh Privacy Row With Tracking App

Facebook is reportedly developing a mobile app that tracks your location, even when the handset is not being used

On by Tom Jowitt 0

Facebook risks being engulfed in a fresh privacy row after it was reported that the social networking giant is developing a location-tracking mobile app.

According to Bloomberg, which quoted two unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter, Facebook is developing a smartphone app that will constantly track the location of users.

Mobile Tracking

The location tracking app is reportedly being developed by a team led by Peter Deng, a product director who joined from Google five years ago. According to one Bloomberg source, the development team also includes engineers from Glancee, a location-tracking startup Facebook acquired last May, and Gowalla, a location-based social network that competes against Foursquare and which Facebook acquired in December 2011.

The report states that the app is scheduled to release by mid-March, and is reportedly designed to assist Facebook users in finding their nearby friends by constantly monitoring their location. This type of location tracking is of course nothing new nowadays, as Apple’s “Find My Friends” app does something similar for example. And Facebook Places also allows users to share their current location with their friends.

Facebook Open Graph FeaturedHowever the Facebook app potentially risks controversy because it will run constantly, even when the program is not being run on a smartphone.

And besides the potential privacy implications of this new app, the concern is that this new app could potentially allow Facebook to push targeted advertising to its users, depending on their location and daily routines and habits.

When TechWeekEurope questioned Facebook about the location-tracking app, it neither confirmed or denied the report.

“Facebook doesn’t comment on rumour or speculation,” said a company spokesperson.

Facebook meanwhile is seeing strong growth of late, helped by a very large extent to its focus on the mobile audience. Last month when it released its latest financial results, the company revealed that for the first time daily active users on mobile had surpassed that of Web visits to the site.

Facebook said that there had been 680 mobile monthly active users in the fourth quarter of 2012, of which 157 million were exclusively mobile.

Privacy Controversies

Facebook London CakesYet Facebook is notorious for dancing along the edges of the whole privacy debate, ever since Mark Zuckerberg first questioned whether people had an expectation of privacy in 2010.

Since then, the social networking giant has repeatedly clashed with regulators and campaigners over privacy issues, most recently with the launch of Facebook Graph Search. But other problem areas include its facial recognition technology for example.

Privacy campaigners have long claimed that Facebook makes it too difficult for users to safeguard their privacy due to the overly complex privacy settings on the social networking website.

Facebook itself has a robust position on the whole privacy issue, after it told TechWeekEurope last December that the ‘right to be forgotten’, one of the key parts of the European Commission’s proposed data protection laws, will actually require more tracking of individuals on the Internet, rather than be a massive boon for privacy.

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Tom Jowitt
Author: Tom Jowitt
Freelance TechWeek Reporter
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