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Facebook developing app that will track your every move – even when it’s turned off

10 Feb 2013 by Seeker in Science & Technology

App intended to alert users when Facebook ‘friends’ are nearby.

It will also help the social network target localised adverts.

Privacy campaigners warn it is ‘profit trumping privacy’.

Facebook is developing a new smartphone app to track the location of users in an effort to target them with localised adverts, according to reports.

The app will help users to find friends who are nearby, alert them when it detects one in close proximity even when the app is not open on the handset, it is claimed.

It will be just one of a whole suite of mobile apps Facebook is building up to help it profit from the increasing proportion of its users who access the social network on the go.

But privacy campaigners warned it was another example of ‘profit trumping privacy’ and called the function ‘intrusive’.

Facebook developing app that will track your every move – even when it’s turned off
The loading screen of the Facebook mobile app: The social network is developing a new smartphone app to track the location of users in an effort to target them with localised adverts

European regulators have already warned Facebook over the way it handles users’ personal data, forcing the company to turn off its facial recognition feature for European users.

The new app would help Facebook target advertising to users based on their location and their daily habits, helping corporate clients to reach the audiences they feel are most likely to want their products.

Plans for the app were leaked to Bloomberg by two people ‘with knowledge of the matter’, the financial news service said.

Development of Facebook’s location software is being led by Peter Deng, a product director who joined the company from Google in 2007, one source said.

Mobile first: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week told investors that the company would focus on generating revenue from mobile apps
Mobile first: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week told investors that the company would focus on generating revenue from mobile apps

The team also includes engineers from Glancee, a location-tracking company Facebook bought out last May, and Gowalla, a location-based social network snapped up in December 2011, Bloomberg reported.

Facebook’s privacy policies already warn users that the social network may use location data to ‘tell you and your friends about people or events nearby, or offer deals to you that you might be interested in.’

Mr Zuckerberg last week boasted that the company had redirected itself to focus on becoming a truly mobile company, in a move that he feels is paying off since their mobile ad revenue is growing.

‘2012 was a big year for us,’ the 28-year-old social media entrepreneur said in a conference call following the release of the Q4 earnings report a day earlier.

Facebook’s biggest challenge – and its greatest opportunity – lies in mobile devices which is an area that the company did not pay much attention to until just last year.

Most Facebook users access it using a mobile phone or tablet computer, yet the nine-year-old company only started showing mobile ads about nine months ago.

The company said it generated 23 per cent, or $306million, of advertising revenue from mobile, marking an increase from 14 per cent in the third quarter.

‘When we get your GPS location, we put it together with other location information we have about you (like your current city),’ says the social network’s data use policy.

‘But we only keep it until it is no longer useful to provide you services, like keeping your last GPS coordinates to send you relevant notifications.’

Matrix: Facebook's privacy policies already warn users that the social network may use location data to 'tell you and your friends about people or events nearby, or offer deals to you that you might be interested in'
Matrix: Facebook’s privacy policies already warn users that the social network may use location data to ‘tell you and your friends about people or events nearby, or offer deals to you that you might be interested in’

WEB USERS SEEKING ‘INVISIBILITY’

Consumer efforts to protect personal data and remain ‘invisible’ online is leading to a ‘data blackhole’ that could adversely impact digital advertisers, according to a new report.

The move to seek ‘new tools that allow them to remain ‘invisible’ — untraceable and impossible to target by data means’ will impact advertisers who rely on that information to target their audiences, technology research firm Ovum said yesterday.

Surveying consumers in 11 countries around the world, the research firm said 68 per cent of respondents said they would select a ‘do not track’ feature if this was easily available.

Mark Little, a principal analyst at Ovum, said Internet users were increasingly getting more access to new tools to ‘monitor, control and secure their personal data as never before’.

The recent scandal involving privacy breaches by mobile messaging service WhatsApp and lingering concerns over data use policies on Facebook and Google are prompting Internet users to be more guarded, Ovum added.

The new tracking device-style application has already raised concerns among privacy campaigners.

Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘Data about where you are at any one time is hugely sensitive and should only ever be shared when users are fully aware of how the data will be used and remain in full control of who can see it.

‘Yet again it seems the case that the demands of advertisers trump consumer’s right to privacy, and Facebook needs to be very careful with these plans otherwise users will rightly be up in arms again.

‘The reality is that smart phones are capable of tracking our movements in real time, however consumers are largely kept in the dark about who can access the data and how it is used.

‘This has to change and the law needs strengthening to protect consumers from overly intrusive attempts to monitor our behaviour.’

There is already a range of other apps which constantly track user locations to help them find friends or places of interest.

However, privacy concerns and the heavy toll they place on smartphones’ battery life mean that they have failed to gain wide audiences.

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Seeker