iOS 8 changes location tracking permissions from “Yes/No” to “Always/While Using The App/Never”, meaning that technically Facebook has to change the location permission for people who’ve turned on Nearby Friends. To pre-empt and thwart any freak outs, it published a blog post today explaining it’s not tracking users any more than it already did, and not at all if they didn’t opt in to enabling location tracking.
After years of sketchy privacy changes, this is Facebook’s predicament. Everyone assumes its trying to harvest their personal data like the Matrix turned humans into batteries, which it typically is, but over the last year at least it’s tried to be more up front about it.
Its iOS 8 app won’t come out for a few more weeks, and will support the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus sizes as well as iOS sharing sheets with friend tagging and emotion/activity sharing. But it’s going out of its way now to tell users that the way its app and location tracking works isn’t changing at all.
Facebook says “Nothing has changed about how Facebook gets location information from devices, but Apple has updated its Location Services setting…Facebook isn’t getting any new location information when you upgrade to iOS 8…You control your location information. Nothing is changing and Facebook will continue to respect the choices you’ve made about location.”
As for its other apps, Facebook says “For apps from Facebook that don’t have features that rely on getting location in the background, the Location Services setting for the iOS 8 versions will start at “While Using the App.” These apps include Messenger and Instagram.”
Facebook launched Nearby Friends, an opt-in always-on real-time proximity sharing feature, back in April to help people see if any of their friends were close enough for a spontaneous meetup. To preserve privacy, it doesn’t actually show people’s location, just how far away they are, and it doesn’t get more specific than “1/2 mile”. Friends do have the option to share their exact location with a special someone for a few hours or indefinitely.
Nearby Friends has to be able to track your location even when the app is closed to work. So when iOS 8 changed the location tracking permission structure, Facebook had to switch people from “Yes” to “Always”. These mean the same thing, but people are still liable to panic. If it had switched people to “While Using The App” it would have broken Nearby Friends for anyone using it, and people wouldn’t get an easily accessible option to switch to “Always”.
Facebook deliberately made Nearby Friends opt-in rather than opt-out to minimize privacy issues. It did the same for audio ID of songs and TV during status updates. And it recently started pushing all users through a privacy checkup. While its history with privacy has plenty to complain about, at least it’s trying hard going forward.