updated 01:46 am EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Will take on Apple, Foursquare, Banjo, others
Knowing where everyone important to you is at any given moment no longer requires "eyes in the back of your head" the way it did for our parents. Thanks to apps like Apple's Find My Friends iOS app (and voluntary "I am here!" apps like Foursquare and Facebook's check-in service), stalking (with permission) your friends and loved ones has never been easier. Bloomberg is reporting that Facebook will launch such an app for iOS and presumably Android to offer the same abilities for your Facebook friends.
Of course, users of the alleged new Facebook app -- which is rumored to launch next month -- would have to opt-in to having their location tracked and broadcast to those who want to know. Facebook already provides Nearby and Places services that lets users know about businesses, services and events that are happening near their current location, so the new app could simply coordinate this information with voluntary check-ins and posts that have location information attached to them.
In 2011, Facebook bought GoWalla, a competitor to the reigning check-in type app, FourSquare. Initially it brought the technology into Facebook with its own implementation of check-in that added the ability to tag other Facebook friends as being at the same location -- a feature that sometimes has unintended side effects. For Facebook, further integration of these services will allow the now stockholder-driven company to increase its use of targeted advertising, as it will simultaneously collect great amounts of data on where people are and what they're doing in groups rather than through one individual at a time.
Currently over 157 million active Facebook users interact with the site through mobile devices exclusively. More users now use mobile devices to go on Facebook at least some of the time than desktop/notebook users, by roughly a 60-40 percent ratio. This means some 680 million people use the mobile versions of Facebook at least periodically. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly emphasized that the company is focused not just on capitalizing on its mobile users, but in making such users a priority and that Facebook will spend 2013 learning to "get really good at building new mobile-first experiences."
Though Facebook may run afoul of privacy advocates with the scheme, as other "Find My Friend" type app competitors have, a bigger concern is how the company will approach using and sharing location data. Unlike most new applications that have to explicitly ask for permission to use location data, most Facebook users have already given the company that permission and may not understand that it applies equally to all Facebook iOS apps rather than just the site itself. Battery drain caused by constant tracking (which Apple's Find My Friends doesn't do) could also be a concern even among users comfortable with the concept.