Facebook Uses Phone Location to Recommend Friends

Facebook permission creep continues. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.

Facebook logoA story from Fusion yesterday spells out pretty clearly the case for believing that Facebook is using your phone’s location to guess who your friends might be, and are using that info to make recommendations.

Most Facebook users who have given it some thought assume that Facebook recommends friends for you based on the fact that their phone number or email address are in your contacts. That is partly true, and Facebook did respond to the claims in the Fusion article (emphasis ours):

People You May Know are people on Facebook that you might know. 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 information by itself doesn’t indicate that two people might be friends. That’s why location is only one of the factors we use to suggest people you may know.”

You can see that the Facebook spokesman stopped short of saying that they don’t use location to recommend friends. That language could mean that your location plus any other information (where you live, that you’ve been at that location multiple times, that you’re a Facebook user…) could be enough. It doesn’t cost facebook anything to make a recommendation.

The conclusion in the Fusion article is that Facebook might be doing it, and if you’re troubled by that you should turn off Facebook’s access to the GPS location service in your phone. That’s good advice but…

The article was posted in the Privacy sub at Reddit, which happens to be frequented by people who are experts on the topic – some of them appear to do privacy for a living, others are passionate about their personal provacy. One reader offered the following comment:

“They’ve been doing this for at least 2 years. I drove a mail route and it kept suggesting people on my route with no connections to me at all. Sometimes in the order of the route. This was 2 years ago.”

Facebook suggesting friends for you based on your location is in itself mostly harmless. You don’t have to act on the recommendation. What troubles us is that they’ve never explicitly told us that they’re doing it. By extension, we don’t know what else they are doing with our personal data.

As cool as it might be to Check In somewhere glamorous on Facebook, you might want to consider turning location off. We recommend it, especially for young users.


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