Facebook has confirmed that it does monitor your location, from data obtained through your smartphone, and then uses this as part of the ‘People You May Know’ service.

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People you may know…

Facebook’s ‘suggested friends’ has always been a bit of a black box. Recent information, however, suggests that they are using data on location to make suggestions. Which is fine in say, a university campus, but what if you have gone to a clinic, or an alcoholic’s anonymous meeting, the likelihood is that in these situations you don’t want someone popping up on your page just because you happened to be in the same place at the same time.

That is what happened to a man recently, who told his story to Fusion. He had been at a meeting for the parents of suicidal teens and the following day found one of the parents showing up on his suggested friends list and he feels it is solely because they were in the same meeting.

Facebook – Privacy concerns

A spokesperson at Facebook responded to the claims, “‘People You May Know’ are people on Facebook that you might know,” they helpfully stated. They continued, “We show you people based on mutual friends, work and education information, networks you’re part of, contacts you’ve imported and many other factors.”

Location is clearly one of these ‘other factors’, but Facebook insisted that it would not be enough on its own, and there must have been at least one other factor that prompted the suggestion.

“Location information by itself doesn’t indicate that two people might be friends,” said the Facebook spokesperson. “That’s why location is only one of the factors we use to suggest people you may know.”

Yet the man explains that they had not exchanged any details (Facebook will look at your phone and email contacts) and were not in any shared groups or networks.

Uses of location data

Facebook is reportedly looking to use the vast amounts of location data it receives to greater effect. Geo-targeted advertising is becoming more and more prevalent, with a website able to offer a personalized page depending on the visitor’s location, including country, state, zip code etc.

It has also been shown they monitor which shops you go into, to track how successful online advertising has been in influencing your purchasing patterns.

It seems we can add friend recommendations to the list of how they are using the data.

As mentioned, there are times this may be beneficial, and times that it could a little bit troubling. If you meet someone at a party and get on great but for whatever reason, you don’t have a chance to exchange details, having them show up the next day might be a welcome sight, and saves you the two hours of ‘investigating’ you may have had to undertake.

But what if you deliberately didn’t exchange details because you found them creepy, or suspicious, you don’t necessarily want your name and picture showing up in their list of people they may know.

Also, if ‘people you may know’ is becoming little more than people who have been at the same place at the time as you, it can give people far more information than you are looking to share. People who went to your college, or others who are also members of a niche musical group’s fan page is one thing, but what about pro-life campaigners who get all your information because you visited an abortion clinic they were protesting outside?

Privacy settings

If you don’t feel comfortable with Facebook tracking all your movements, there is a way to stop them receiving the data. In the privacy settings on your smartphone, you can choose ‘never’ for Facebook accessing location data.