Facebook's rolling out a new way for people to share their location within Messenger, with additional limitations and options to avoid the 'creepy' connotations of their previous location-sharing options.
As you can see, the new 'Live Location' enables users to share their exact location on a map with other Messenger connections, helping to provide additional context quickly. And importantly, the new tool only shares your location in the app for an hour, with a timer on-screen showing exactly how long your details will be available for.
Why is that so important? Because Facebook's previous location-sharing efforts have been... well, a little questionable, in terms of privacy and security.
Facebook has more data and insight on who you are, what you're interested in and what you're doing than any other company has ever had in history. But there are some challenges in utilizing all the information to best effect.
An example of this is Graph Search - back in 2013, Facebook announced a new, revolutionary way to utilize Facebook's data graph to find out more information on users using more complex search queries - like, say, 'Friends who like Star Wars and Harry Potter'. The problem was, Graph Search was too good - you could use Graph Search for all kinds of potentially intrusive queries like 'Married friends who use dating apps', details people may not necessarily want out in public. And because not everyone is aware of the complexities of Facebook's privacy settings, the safest route for Facebook to take was to de-commission Graph Search and seek an alternative solution.
Location-sharing is another key example - whenever you use Facebook, you have the option to share your location, and many people are doing so, often without even being fully aware of it (some data suggests that up to 90% of people keep location services on at all times). For Facebook, that presents an opportunity, and in the last few years they've made several attempts to utilize location sharing within both Facebook and Messenger to improve real-world connection.
Back in 2014, they introduced 'Nearby Friends', which notified you when connections were in your vicinity to help facilitate serendipitous meet-ups.
"For example, when you're headed to the movies, Nearby Friends will let you know if friends are nearby so you can see the movie together or meet up afterward."
Like Graph Search, the idea was logical enough, you could show friends where you were so you could go meet them if you wanted. But also like Graph Search, the tool could be used for less than ideal purposes.
The tool enabled users to effectively cyber-stalk connections - a browser extension called 'Marauders Map', released in 2015, actually highlighted how the option could be used to get a full location history of anyone you were connected to, showing exactly where they'd been, and when. This was, again, obviously less than ideal for many users.
On top of this, there are also times you didn't want to meet up with people, but they could still see you on their map, making it more difficult to avoid them. Basically, the idea was fine, but there were various problems, so Facebook stepped back Nearby Friends late last year in favor of a less comprehensive option which enabled users to signal their location to certain friends.
And now we have Live Location, their latest attempt at using their data resources in a non-creepy way. Live Location's key differentiating factor is the timer, providing access to your location with chosen people for only a chosen amount of time.
Will it get more people using the option? Will it become a key part of the Messenger experience?
While it's impossible to know how users will respond, the functionality clearly has potential, and anything Facebook can do to boost their utility through the use of their data can only be a positive for on-platform engagement.
How to Share Your Location
As shown in the above video, in order to share your Live Location in Messenger:
- Tap the Location icon, or tap the 'More' button then select 'Location'. You'll then see a map of your current location and the option to tap a blue bar to share your Live Location.
- If you choose to share your Live Location, the person (or people) you share it with will be able to see where you are on a map for the next 60 minutes.
- You can stop sharing your Live Location at any time by tapping 'Stop Sharing'.
- You can share your location with a group of friends in Messenger or just with one person.
Outside of sharing your location to meet up, the function could also be beneficial for parents looking to track the location of their kids to ensure they get home safe at night, without also over-stepping the boundaries and tracking their every waking move.
In addition, you can also share a static point on the map:
"For example, if you want to tell a friend which coffee shop to meet you at, tap the location pin or the More icon, and then instead of choosing Share Live Location, tap the red pin in the upper right hand corner. From there, you can search for a place to share, or you can drag and drop the pin on the map. Then, tap Send."
This may be beneficial for businesses in trying to guide Messenger users to their physical store location or to an event.
It's a clever way for Facebook to capitalize on their potential without pushing it too much - and worth noting, you could previously make Nearby Friends only available for a certain period of time, but it was an option. With Live Location Facebook has made it the default, a much safer move.
Now if only they could work out a similar way to bring back Graph Search.
Live Location is available from today in both the iOS and Android versions of Messenger.