If you use Facebook daily you might notice that your friend suggestions somewhat shift from day to day. You might not think anything of it but some people seem to think that these changes are a result of Facebook tracking your location and making friend suggestions accordingly. That does make some sense, of course, as it is common to see friend suggestions who live nearby.
Of course, it is just as easy to say that Facebook suggests friends nearby because they probably share mutual friends with you who also live nearby.
This type of service is not necessarily new. Both the Happn and the Tinder networks—among others—operate by making location-based recommendations. And so it would not be too much of a surprise if Facebook also did this. Still, the idea seems to surprise some users.
Of course, Facebook simplifies the idea, saying that “People You May Know are people on Facebook that you might know,” adding that “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.”
At some point, Facebook defends that location is not a factor it considers when making friend suggestions.
A Facebook spokesperson goes on to say, “We’re not using location data, such as device location and location information you add to your profile, to suggest people you may know. We may show you people based on mutual friends, work and education information, networks you are part of, contacts you’ve imported and other factors.”
But Facebook has also said that while location, alone, does not indicate the possibility that two users may be friends, “location is only one of the factors we use to suggest people you may know.”
It may seem somewhat inoccuous but law professor Woodrow Harztog warns, “Using location data this way is dangerous.” He adds, “People need to keep their visits to places like doctor’s offices, rehab, and support centers discreet. Once Facebook users realize that the ‘People You May Know’ are the ‘People That Go To the Same Places You Do,’ this feature will inevitably start outing people’s intimate information without their knowledge.”
He further cautions that if Facebook is going to use this feature—which can have some benefit—it should ask for affirmation to turn the feature on before simply accessing location information via a user’s mobile device.
He says, “Geolocation data is far more sensitive than most of the kinds of information people probably assume are used to suggest friends, such as alma mater and mutual friends.”