Nearby Friends: Facebook’s Newest Way to Guarantee You Are Never in Want of a Friend by Dana Halber

You’re sitting in Starbucks enjoying a cup of Joe thinking how nice it would be if a friend could stop by and join you. With the imminent launch of Facebook’s latest gimmick, Nearby Friends, finding a friend in close proximity to you for coffee becomes instantaneous and effortless; provided you both have opted-in to and turned on the new service.

Nearby Friends is Facebook’s latest attempt to connect people in person rather than online. As quoted in Josh Constine’s Huffington Post article,

Facebook Launches “Nearby Friends” With Opt-In Real-Time Location Sharing To Help You Meet Up, Andrea Vaccari, developer of Nearby Friends, explains the goal of the newest technology is to “make it really easy to discover when someone is around you, and meet up and spend time together.” Nearby Friends will become available within the next few weeks for mobile phones using iOS or Android operating systems. If a Facebook user, only those 18 years or older, chooses to opt-in to Nearby Friends, an icon will appear next to that user’s friends who have also selected to participate in the service. Participants in Nearby Friends will receive notifications from Facebook when friends are within their proximity. Facebook allows users to be discriminatory by giving users the option to share their proximity with all friends or with only specific friends; additionally, an individual’s exact location will not be disclosed, only his proximity to another user. If a user wants to know the specific location of a friend, he can send that friend a forty character message through the Nearby Friends service and ask for his exact address. When Nearby Friends is not specifically turned on, a user’s location is not available to others. However, if a user turns Nearby Friends on and forgets to turn it off, his whereabouts will always be available for all of his participating friends to see.

I guess I understand the benefits to Nearby Friends. It is a great way to find company at a moment’s notice. It easily facilitates an impromptu gathering of friends. However, part of me can’t help but think that Nearby Friends makes society a little lazier. It takes the effort out of picking up the phone and telling a friend you want to see them, then working together to make a meeting happen. There’s something nice about letting someone know that you want to carve time out of your busy life specifically for them, rather than relying upon pure happenstance. But what happens when a user forgets to turn off Nearby Friends when he doesn’t want his relative location disclosed? I can anticipate the trouble that will ensue if one is found to be somewhere he shouldn’t. Whether the user’s behavior at that time is inappropriate or not is irrelevant; it is a realistic issue that can arise from participating in the service. Although leaving Nearby Friends activated at inopportune times is the result of the user’s own negligence, it is not unreasonable to believe that people will forget to turn the service off when they want to go about their business without being bothered by others; if one forgets to turn off Nearby Friends, that luxury becomes obsolete.

I think it is obvious that I most likely will not participate in the new service; however, I will probably be in the minority. I do see the benefit of knowing when a friend is close-by when one is in want of some companionship. However, making a phone call or sending a text message can serve that function, as well. I don’t need my cell phone to disclose my location for me. But perhaps my thinking is just old fashioned…

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