Your whereabouts will soon be much more private if you’re a Facebook user. Unceremoniously, Facebook is ending two of its services that use your tracked location and will be deleting everyone’s saved location history eventually as well.
Facebook’s Quiet Announcement
Despite this being news most people would appreciate, facebook parent Meta Platforms didn’t bother to release this to news outlets, publish a blog post, etc. The change is popping up in in-app prompts and emails.
A user received a message that said features relying on background location tracking would be discontinued: Nearby Friends, which lets you know which of your friends are currently in your area, and weather alerts. Meta spokesperson Emil Vazquez said in an email that the features were being turned off “due to low usage.”
Facebook will stop recording location data on May 31, and on August 1, it will completely delete stored location history. Last November, Facebook did another data purge when it stopped its facial recognition and wiped that data.
Third-Party Data Use
With many people not trusting Facebook, there’s an even bigger worry with third-party use of your location data history. While Facebook keeps the data and sells it by demographics, interests, etc., data brokers get ahold of the data through mobile apps embedded with their code.
Facebook, though, lets you delete your location history if you don’t want it on there. It also lets you edit it and download it as well. Google has a similar policy. However, these third parties are still keeping it unless you delete it.
“Our concern goes beyond Facebook,” said Dhanaraj Thakur, research director at the non-profit Center for Democracy and Technology. “The data broker ecosystem in general is so opaque, and there are so many actors involved.”
Perhaps most disturbing is that wireless carriers can find your location by providing your phone with a signal, and they can keep that data for up to five years. And, of course, they can turn around and sell the information to data brokers too.
“They collect and have tremendous amounts of location data, which can be linked to a lot of private data about individuals,” added Thakur.
There is no federal privacy law yet in the U.S. to stop such actions. However, the Fourth Amendment Is Not for Sale Act was introduced by two senators and would prevent government agencies from getting around search warrants and buying information from the data brokers.
Apple put a stranglehold on much of this in the last few years when it introduced an option that allows users to ask apps not to track them. Google and Apple now only allow an approximate location to be obtained.
Research showed a 68% reduction in background location information that was obtained by marketers after Apple gave that power to users.
Facebook seems to be following up on the advice of the CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, Jules Polonetsky: Many companies that have access to user location should be taking a hard look at whether they need to collect that data and how they can minimize or delete location histories.”
We’re definitely not in the clear with Facebook’s change of policy with location data history, but it is a great advance forward.