Facebook brings out a new opt-in feature called Nearby Friends. It lets one’s friends see approximately how far away he is from them, and he can share his exact location with them for a limited time. While it is bound to stir privacy concerns, Nearby Friends could get people spending more time with friends in the real-world instead of the virtual world as it hits iOS and Android in the US in the coming weeks.
The application will send notifications if one comes within a short distance of a friend, and also if someone shares their precise location with others who will be able to see it on a map. It wants to facilitate those serendipitous and sudden meet-ups where you run into a friend and end up having a lovely meal or hanging out together. It’s a meatspace manifestation of Facebook’s mission to connect people and an answer to all the criticism that says that Facebook isolates us.
As for the matter of privacy, Nearby Friends is opt-in so one can ignore it and never have to use it if he doesn’t want to. It’s only available to people over 18 years of age. It uses a reciprocal privacy model so one can only see his proximity to friends if both of them have it turned on, and one can only see someone’s exact location if they purposefully share it with him. While one can select the specific list or group of friends one want to share his proximity with, many people may simply keep this visible to all their friends thus creating a very wide net.
Nearby Friends tests our own ability to protect ourselves. Facebook has given us all the necessary privacy options and set respectful defaults. Created skillfully, Nearby Friends could unlock real-world interactions in the way Foursquare and other similar products were supposed to but were not successful enough. More than money, success or power, it is believed that spending time with people you love is the best path to happiness and peace. We have plenty of tools for sharing, seeing and consuming memories. Finally, Facebook has created a feature that will help us forge the memories which we share.