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Now Your Friends Will Know Exactly Where You Are As Facebook Launches ‘Nearby Friends’

Facebook has always encouraged you to share with your friends — your favorite movies, pictures and life updates. Now Facebook wants you to share your location, too.

The social network on Thursday announced Nearby Friends, a new feature built into Facebook’s mobile app that allows you to see which of your friends are close by and even to share your exact location with others.

The new feature uses the geolocation technology in your smartphone to determine when you are close to one of your Facebook friends. When activated, the feature will send periodic notifications alerting you to friends who are nearby. Users have been able to check in on Facebook for some time, meaning you can already share your location as part of a post, but Nearby Friends allows you to broadcast your general location to Facebook friends without posting at all.

The new feature is opt-in, meaning you’ll need to activate it within the app, should you choose to participate. Users who do not activate Nearby Friends won’t be affected in any way and will not share with or receive any location information from others on the platform.

“The mission of Facebook is to connect people, to bring people together,” says Andrea Vaccari, the product manager for the new feature. “Nearby Friends sort of pushes that forward by making it a little easier to find new opportunities to meet your friends while you’re out and about.”

The new feature is intended to help friends meet offline, says Vaccari, whose startup Glancee was acquired by Facebook back in 2012. Vaccari, who grew up in Italy, was building similar technology at Glancee in order to meet new people, a challenge he faced when he came to the United States. At Facebook, the technology only applies to a user’s friends, which Vaccari believes will encourage more people to try it out.

Facebook has been testing the feature with the “vast majority” of the company’s 6,500-plus employees for close to 18 months, according to Vaccari. During that time, Facebook used employee feedback to shape the feature and hone the notification algorithm. At the beginning, users received notifications that they had friends nearby all the time, says Vaccari.

Those notifications were scaled back as the product evolved. Alerting you that a friend is nearby every time you walk into the office or get home to your roommate defeated the purpose, the team decided.

Like many of Facebook’s technologies, the feature adapts as it learns more about you. “The app learns where you spend most of your time, and it avoids sending notifications when you’re at those locations,” explains Vaccari. Facebook collects this data and stores it on company servers, but Vaccari claims that it will never be used for purposes outside of Nearby Friends.

Users can delete this data from the servers at any time by clearing their activity within settings, he adds.

For many users, the thought of Facebook collecting data about the places they visit most often is frightening, a fear Vaccari is aware of. It’s one of the reasons the feature is opt-in, and a major reason you can only see and share with friends and not strangers. “We are totally OK with people not wanting to opt in right away,” he says.

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