Facebook Friends Closer By The Minute

Categories:  News & Politics    Opinion
Sunday, October 26th, 2014 at 9:56 PM
Facebook Friends Closer By The Minute  by Jim Wertz

Facebook seems to be one of the more persistent social media platforms when it comes to making sure that its users remain, well, social.

In the first quarter 2014 there were more than one billion mobile Facebook users worldwide. So if you’re only using Facebook from your phone, you’re not alone.

Users of the mobile app are, by now, familiar with the “Nearby Friends” feature which ranks your location enabled friends based on their proximity to you and it groups your “friends” based on their common geography. Not a bad idea, right?

Google tried this a few years ago by allowing users with GPS enabled smartphones to use Google Maps to see where their friends, coworkers, and ex-wives were having lunch. It didn’t go over well. But, it turns out, Google may have just been ahead of its time.

Facebook recently rolled out an additional notification function to it’s “Nearby Friends” feature. Now when you enter a friend’s domain, or someone else comes into your ‘hood, you’ll get a push notification on your home screen telling you that your people are nearby. And don’t worry, Facebook took the pain out of enabling the push notification by automatically turning it on for you.

According to Facebook, this function is only available in some areas. Erie is evidently one of them.  

A few days ago, I received my first notification as I walked the aisles of Lowe's. “‘Mary’ is nearby,” read the notification. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

My first instinct was to send her a text message asking, awkwardly, if she was indeed in Lowe's. I didn’t send it. It was the first time I ever felt creepy about my social media engagement.

If “Mary” was in Lowe's, would it seem that I followed her there?

“Oh sure, Facebook told you I was here,” she would think.

And if she wasn’t at Lowe's, what an odd question?

“No, I’m not at Lowe's, Jim, but I sure could use some caulk for my tub. Beige not white, please?”

Two days ago, I received a text message, “Are you at Jr’s?”

I wish I had been at the local laugh factory, but sadly I was not.

“Facebook told me you were nearby,” my friend followed up. “What’s that all about?”

In fact, I was nowhere near Jr’s. I was nearly two miles away at my house. “Nearby” if you’re general reference is northwest Pennsylvania. Not so “Nearby” in the context of downtown Erie.   

I explained the Lowe's situation, to which my friend replied, “Creepy. How do I turn that off?”

The next day, driving down State Street, my phone pinged. I had entered someone’s personal green zone.

To Facebook’s credit, you can choose to share this function with individual Facebook “friends.”

But you may have already guessed, the default position is global. So if you’re not interested in being stalked by all one-thousand of your closest friends, you should probably spend a few hours tooling around in your “Nearby Friends” settings.

If you just want to kill the push notifications, but want others to find you, those directions are available as well.

FB Push Notifications


Each new Facebook feature seems to test in no small way the very privacy concerns Glenn Greenwald referenced a few weeks ago at TEDGlobal in Rio de Janeiro.

As Greenwald pointed out, there is a privacy paradox taking shape in Silicon Valley. Mark Zuckerberg wants us to believe that privacy is dead in the age of Facebook, but he spent thirty million dollars to buy all of the houses adjacent to his to insure his and his wife’s privacy.

As long as they can turn our movements into data points, all is right in the Facebook world.

For now, however, your decision is easy: stalk or be stalked, or simply to turn off your locations, which will disable other functions you undoubtedly want to use.

Privacy, it seems, will remain a laughing matter.

Jim Wertz can be reached at jWertz@ErieReader.com or on Twitter @jim_wertz. If neither of those work, you can track him from your Facebook app. 

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