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Stalking Your Friends with Facebook Messenger (medium.com/arankhanna)
391 points by dvdyzag on May 27, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 185 comments

The location you share with your friend is dead accurate, not an area but the exact gps point in map. I did not realize I was sharing location when the feature was first announced -- told a friend I am just five minutes away from his house: he replied no you aren't -- found this feature and switched it off for good at that moment, it's intimidating.

Or maybe not lie?

That's unrelated.

Sharing _exact_ locations by default without realizing it is creepy/intimidating. The content of the message/the incident itself is just an anecdote that explains how the GP noticed this idiotic behavior of FB's chat.

Commenting on the anecdote derails the thread as far as I'm concerned. The subject is 'FB shares detailed location data and you might not know it', not 'one time, in band camp, I lied to a friend about my ETA'.

Ignoring that, there's no way to judge his communication with a friend. The only two people that can decide whether a lie like that is acceptable are the people involved. The friend might be offended and agree with you. Or laugh about it and ask for a beer in return, being totally fine with it. Expecting it? Who knows. And still irrelevant.

We can blame HN for being unable to hide subthreads, but for now the first 2 pages on my 25" monitor discuss if lies are acceptable or not and in what circumstances..

Thanks for seeing the focal point of my comment. Cheers!

In India, " bus(just) 5 minute mein(in) aaya(coming) " is a way of saying I am going to reach there soon and the other end knows this means either he is far away or hasn't even started yet. His reply was a banter.

Literal translation created this whole mess! This has nothing to do with ETA.

At least on iOS, they have to ask to use location services. Granted, it doesn't say "so we can tell your contacts exactly where you are..." but for iOS users at least, the default should always be "No" when an app asks. Then decide later.

I'm adding to the noise, but on Firefox there's a "add collapse subthreads button" add-on. I think there's one for Chrome too.

Small lies like that are a huge part of everyday communications. No one should feel overly guilty about them and we need to be able to make them. They can be a kind of courtesy.

While I do agree with being able to make small lies, but why would you tell someone whose waiting for you that you are 5 minutes away if you are clearly not. Maybe it's just me, but when someone says 5 minutes, I don't expect 10, 15, or 30. I expect 5 minutes. This is especially true in Asian cultures.

One of the worst offenders is Brazil. When living there, it was common to hear "I'm on my way" (to an agreed meeting point at a specific time) but that could mean they actually are on their way or that they've just got up from the couch and will go take a shower, choose what to wear, maybe have a bite to eat and then think about transportation.

Knowing this, the trick was either to not take specific times seriously or to give a fake meeting time (earlier than the actual one) so the person gets there on time.

When I was in college, my Native American roommate introduced to "native time" which is the same as you related it while you were in Brazil.

If he had no set time to meet, he'd say he would be there around "native o' clock" which meant he would be there at the time +/- 30-45 minutes. If we agreed to a specific time, he would be there on time. It really helped me and I learned a lot about how Native American culture operated while we were roommates.

As a norwegian living in Peru I used the same methods. I started to tell my peruvian friends that we were meeting at a resturant instead of a street corner. Different cultures have different understanding of time.

It depends on the culture. When I hear "I'll be late 5 minutes" that usually means 10 or 15, "10 minutes late" means an actual 20 or 30 minutes, while everything higher than 20 minutes could mean an actual hour. I live in Romania.

That's why i set myself a rule of whenever somebody says I will be there in 5 minutes I translate it to give me 5 minutes to show up if i don't forget about it.

And I hold everyone to it. If you don't show up in the amount of time you specify I'm gone.

I'm Romanian too I just hate wasting my time. My friends learned that really quickly.

What if they get stuck on the train? There are other, non-lazy reasons for being late.

If I'd taken a 30 minute train ride to come and see you, been delayed by 10 minutes, then find you're gone when I arrive I don't think our friendship would last very long.

That was valid before cellphones, nowadays I expect people to call/message if they're late. I suppose that reading Fuxy's post literally implies that no such exception is allowed, but I assume it's not meant to be an inviolable rule.

Don't move anywhere with an underground subway system then...

Our underground subway system here in Lisbon has cellphone coverage.

Lucky! NYC's subway has complete radio silence.

But people in NYC know that the late party might not have cell phone coverage. Conventions adapt, life goes on.

If you don't show up in the amount of time you specify I'm gone.


"I'll be late 5 minutes" does not have the same set of expectations for "I am just five minutes away" which is what kanche said.

I'll be late 5 minutes means you're 10 minutes away (5 minutes to get there on time and 5 minutes of being late).

The point is, it doesn't matter. It's none of your business why someone lies.

Actually, the point is to manage expectations. Instead of saying I'll be there in 5 minutes, it would be better to say I am going to be X minutes late. There's lying to hide your business, but there's also lying and being inconsiderate of other people's time.

Or, it could be your best estimate, based on current traffic conditions or walking speed.

I always underestimate how long it will take,this does not mean I am lying, it means I am bad at guessing how long it takes me to walk/drive/sit in a train somewhere

In which case surely your friend getting an automatic, accurate version of your position from facebook would be better for both of you?

He might've been closer than he was making out to be. Yours is an unwarranted assumption.

When people make this lie, what they are really saying is: "Stop whatever you are doing and be ready and waiting for when I finally arrive".

The negative consequences fall on the person receiving the lie. It's not a courtesy. It has long-term consequences to your credibility and trustworthiness.

It is far better to tell the truth in this case.

Tardiness/lack of understanding of time is actually a huge problem in our culture . Most of us take it by default that other person would be at least an hour late. So we usually give an hour earlier than intended time when hosting a party or something. (We usually give actual time to our Western friends).

However, this creates problem for people who actually show up on the given time. Now you have guests in the house to entertain while at the same time make preparations for the party. It also embarrassing for guest to arrive on time only to find out that they are early.

Sometimes when we really want to convey be timeliness, we say something like 5PM American Time not Desi Time. But I really wish we don't have to do this.

Would "5PM sharp" do it?

We use "5PM sharp" or its equivalent in Urdu or Hindi but usually it doesn't mean much.

When we want people to be on time and don't want to assume that they will be late, we usually say a little more or give a reason (like we made reservations etc).

The truth would be "I have no clue how long it will take me to get there"

"I just passed landmark X and I'm on foot" is often more helpful.

Or maybe "Here's my GPS coords and current speed". Facebook Messenger should add direction and speed information!

Does it still suck raw eggs? I wanted that functionality but found Glympse too horrible to use at the time, a while back.

Works fine for me, with the caveat of using it inside vzn's message+

It would also be helpful if they could notify the recipient when my digestive system is below 10% capacity, so they would know that I'm likely to stop for a bite to eat (and maybe suggest a good restaurant nearby if Facebook hasn't done so already).

On that note, I recommend Mark Twain's On The Decay Of The Art Of Lying: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/2572/pg2572.html

There are also cases where lying to say something is longer than the direct distance is more accurate. i.e. if I know I'm going to stop for gas/etc., even if I'm "5 minutes away" by distance, I might say I'm 10 minutes away.

What's the benefit (to both parties) for the example he gave?

That's a good example of how faulty "if you don't have anything to hide, you have nothing to worry about" argument is.

He has something to hide

Everyone, has something to hide.

It may not have been a lie. It could simply have been a bad estimate, maybe he guessed he was about five minutes away but didn't know the area too well and was more then ten minutes away?

Then it's a good thing Facebook came through with the more accurate information.

I find it hard to grasp why any intelligent individual who knows what goes on with Facebook would still voluntarily remain on Facebook.

"Ah but the social ostracization!", seemingly the main reason why otherwise intelligent, informed people do stay on Facebook, just doesn't hold up anymore, as too many cool, socially active 20-somethings I know or are acquainted with have moved off of Facebook, mostly in last 1-2 years. Even if you're stuck in a gossipy friend group that would "severely judge you" for leaving Facebook, which is more likely in your own head than in reality, then that's probably a sign you need to find more down to earth friends.

I like to think that I'm "any intelligent individual", and I use Facebook. That's where some close friends and family are, and if I want to keep in contact with them, that's where I need to be.

I understand the nature of the data Facebook collects about me, and I understand what they would like to do with that data. They want to know who I am, what makes me tick, and use that knowledge to show me advertising I'm more likely to click on. They also want to draw me into their walled garden by promising me shiny things if I stay. It doesn't really work, because I see the same middle of the road content and advertising shown to my friends and family.

I also share my location on Messenger, although the friends and family I chat to might or might not be interested in where I am. I don't chat to strangers, or even "strangers". And if I'm somewhere people don't need to know about, I don't share my location. These are things we teach children about using the Net, or should be. Adults should be able to figure this out themselves.

And I explain the difference between myself and my devices to people; when Facebook tells them I'm at home, that's where my phone or tablet or desktop PC is connecting from. I might be there, I might be away, I might not even be awake.

The technology lies, and sometimes so do I.

>if I want to keep in contact with them, that's where I need to be

As an intelligent individual, you must recognize that this isn't really true. You were able to communicate with your family and friends before Facebook existed. You can still communicate with them now, over other media like email, telephone, etc. You (and many others) are simply choosing to use a hostile platform to stay in touch because it is 'easier' or 'more popular' than the alternatives.

I used to live on the same continent as these people, and even then I would live a life parallel to some of these family members. Now I know what they're up to, am reminded of their birthdays, and get photographic proof of their successful reproduction. Social obligations fulfilled.

As for Facebook being a "hostile platform", that's not quite true, is it? When they park a self-driving car they bought off Google outside your house and broadcast your life to everyone you know, that's when they're hostile.

That's a rather harsh argument and we could (not trying to derail this) proceed and say the same thing about people that use Google products, Twitter, WhatsApp, 'the cloud' etc. - and in the end we'll finally agree with Stallman.

I don't have a Facebook account and have to admit that I never truly understood the benefit, the appeal. It seemed full of ads, games, random pictures and without structure - i.e. you might read about people ranting about the current soccer game (I hate that), but miss an important update from a close friend.

Plus, as soon as email isn't a suitable format to exchange information, I have the impression that the communication is either too broad (shout to the public) or trivial (one liners about nonsense). I don't get it.

I DO get the network effect though. So while I agree with you that the 'why' might be hard to grasp, I don't like the stab at people's intellect. It doesn't matter if an individual is intelligent or not - not using a service that all your peers decided on using is hard.

Your last line about being severely judged by friends especially doesn't sit well with me.

For one, people might not judge you - they just might communicate less with you, forget you at times (because you're the one person that needs a mail or a text message or whatever).

And then there's the ridiculous 'find different friends' part. Seriously…

> Plus, as soon as email isn't a suitable format to exchange information, I have the impression that the communication is either too broad (shout to the public) or trivial (one liners about nonsense). I don't get it.

What do you do when you want to organize a party/group trip to a concert/etc. and invite several people?

* Email and reply-all? This means you annoy people who can't make it (they keep seeing all the replies), and people who are added to the list have to be re-added several times as people reply-all to old messages and leave them out.

* Create a mailman list for this specific event and require people to unsubscribe/resubscribe? That's a lot of overhead, and the UI is awful.

* Set up a website/blog for this one event? Even more overhead.

And none of the above approaches have decent calendaring integration - you can attach a .ics to an email but it's still a very manual process.

Not sure if your question was real or merely a set-up for your bullet points. If the former:

Email. I don't tend to organize things with dozens of people on the list (for that I might be convinced that random mail threads might become cumbersome - I'm not convinced that FB is a solution!). If I want to go to a concert and discuss that with <= ten friends, mails are fine. That reply-all argument doesn't come up. If someone has to decline it's trivial for any participant to remove that address. Or he explicitly asks to be removed. Or - and that's probably the general case, that person doesn't care about a couple of emails and marks the thread as read. Done.

I don't claim that you make this issues up or that these things cannot be a nuisance for some people. I .. just don't have these problems, mails work just fine in all cases here.

I agree that a calendar is missing. I tend to use various things for that and don't have a good solution for this so far. Most of the time it's probably 'no calendar' and only a poll of sorts (think doodle or something similar).

Fair enough. I think other people tend to be happier with an "overflowing inbox" than I am; I ruthlessly prune mine (e.g. I don't sign up to mailing lists) to the point where any email should be important enough to interrupt me. And I find it particularly infuriating to keep getting emails about this cool party if I can't make it. But maybe that's just me.

From my experience this is all depends on people in question. We've been experimenting in my circle of friends of about 20-30 people over these years with trying different solutions for event invitations : email, g+ events, FB events, SMS, various chat services.

The outcome was that some people simply aren't reliable to follow up if they're fine with the event terms or not, no matter what medium. It's not a tech problem, it's a people problem and everyone's responsible.

Maybe someone should do a startup with a service like that. It could be called Meetup.com or something.

I just remembered another thing Facebook lets you do that Meetup doesn't: have a virtual group.

All Meetup groups have to be face-to-face group with the intention of physically meeting, so if you want to organize your online play-by-email board games or whatever, or other groups that don't actually intend to meet very often (e.g. class alumni groups mostly for the purpose of distributing info), you can't have either of those be a Meetup group.

But Facebook doesn't care if you do that.

I've had 3 or 4 Meetup groups fold and migrate to Facebook, because Facebook offers basically the same features and some nice extras:

allows private/hidden groups (invite only; Meetup can hide the memberlist and require approval to join but the group existence is still searchable)

free (Meetup currently charges ~$70 for 6 months; source: I'm an organizer for a Meetup group and that's our semi-annual bill. I'm not sure if the scale slides based on membership numbers. I can't find the billing email for the exact number at the moment.)

While I do like Meetup and still use it, using Facebook for small group organization also makes sense.

maybe, but just maybe, paying cash is better than paying with every information available on your phone.

Phone? I didn't mention a phone; both Facebook and Meetup are entirely usable via their websites.

We have about 40-50 active and semi-active members (on Meetup), hold a fundraiser, and yet the organizers still have to chip in to make up the inevitable shortfall.

Whether or not to use Facebook (or Meetup for that matter) is something everybody gets to decide for themselves and preaching about what they should do is silly.

Facebook groups don't require a cellphone. I participate in one (much to my dismay... but that's where the group is...) and I never "Facebook" on my cell phone - messenger, "app," website... none are loaded on my phone or ever used on my phone.

Meetup seems more oriented towards public events. I'm not offering an open invitation for random folks to come see [band], I'm trying to arrange it with these specific named friends. Who are already my friends on facebook (which is not to say we couldn't equally well become friends on meetup, but does it even have that functionality?).

Maybe they're missing on something if they have no such features.

> and in the end we'll finally agree with Stallman

And that's a bad thing? If your friends get this much information out of messages you're sending them, how much does Facebook have? An individual employee at Facebook? An individual who compromises Facebook's servers? An advertiser who works with Facebook?

Agreeing with Stallman is a good way to start taking back control of what information is available out there about you - assuming that matters to you.

Don't try to read too much into that comment of mine. I'm a Linux guy, hate G+, FB, WhatsApp etc. with a passion, subscribe to all things DDG.

The point I was trying to make is that one cannot/should not single out FB as anything special here (top-level comment) and that you probably end up somewhere on the privacy/freedom scale between 'posts restroom visits on social networks and shares the movie of ones wife giving birth' and RMS.

I personally lean towards the latter position. We're in agreement here. I wasn't bashing RMS, I was using him as THE example for someone trying to avoid all this nonsense.

I am finding more and more that people who post on facebook feel like they've gone out of their way to inform you of something. Excluding yourself from facebook means excluding yourself from the events in their life.

This is a genuine question: why does not caring that Facebook collects that data make me less intelligent?

Edit: Judging from the downvotes, asking this question is quite unpopular. Whilst I understand this opinion is unpopular I remain unconvinced it is less intelligent.

Just like getting a prenuptial agreement - don't worry about it if you don't plan on doing anything with your life.

It's easy to forget - but the information they collect can be used by the group that collects it, and by other parties (Gov't TLAs, hackers, insurance companies, banks, business associates, contractors, partner companies). This can happen now, or at some point in the future.

The data can be combined with other data, such as the National Insurance Database (which is illegal to publicly discuss), to draw conclusions about yourself - possibly based on untrue assumptions.

Master Data programs/systems/initiatives are consolidating, de-duping, and integrating data from disparate systems. It doesn't matter that you put down a fake address 100 times, you just have to put in a real address one time - these systems can collate all the data, validate each one against the USPS database, and toss the fakes.

Once again, the same question arises. "why does not caring that Facebook collects that data make me less intelligent?"

I don't really care that the data can be collated. I don't really care about the conclusions drawn. It's not just a "oh I haven't done anything wrong, why should I care" argument, it's past that. I couldn't care less that Facebook, the US government, or some intruder knows I went to Whistler last weekend with my family, and that I took a few photos at Squamish. That data isn't really useful in any context. Similarly, I don't care if they know what events I attend, or who I'm friends with. It just doesn't bother me. Does that make me less intelligent? I would say of course not. If I was ignorant about this information, sure. But knowing the information and simply deciding it's not worth it to care about who sees these trivial bits of data about me shouldn't be called "less intelligent".

As someone else posted below, I value my social life and being able to quickly and easily interact with family and friends from around the world more than the privacy I could attain by not posting these random bits and bobs about my life.

What if one of the people in your photos later turns up on a no-fly list, and that relationship complicates your run for Governor in 20 years?

It reflects a lack of concern for "future-you", a way of closing off certain options in life that might hurt you later.

Okay, you have to admit that's a pretty contrived example. Firstly, most people are not going to run for anything in 20 years. The chance of that alone happening is pretty slim. Secondly, how would that complicate my hypothetical run, anyway? If we were going to go by this insanely arbitrary requirement, then everyone in the US will most likely have a photo with someone that ends up on a no-fly list. It's really easy to be in photos with other people, you don't even have to know the person. So what, I knew someone 20 years in the past that had since been put on a list. That has absolutely no implications of my actions or connections in that present day. That said, I could see how the media might react, so that part wouldn't be too far off base in that regard.

But if that's the best argument against it, then I continue to not care about what I put on Facebook. If it comes back to bite me in the ass 20 years from now, then I can deal with it then. I'd rather not completely destroy my social life in the present for a hypothetical scenario that will probably never end up even happening.

There are plenty of examples of successful politicians being former friends with actual terrorists. A facebook photo seems unlikely to make that any different.

I do data science in my day job. I understand combining datasets.

Again, why does using Facebook make me less intelligent?

If you cannot recognize the harmful implications of this mass data collection, then you are either ignorant or hopelessly naive.

I'm asking for it to be explained.

I'm not arguing that data collection is never harmful. Driving a car is potentially harmful too and indeed caused more instances of actual harm than data collection does. And yet I drive a car, in full awareness of the potential harm.

I am saying that using Facebook - in full awareness of the data collected - is not an inherently unintelligent thing to do.

> I find it hard to grasp why any intelligent individual who knows what goes on with Facebook would still voluntarily remain on Facebook.

Why not? Keeping up with friends and family is extremely efficient, due to FB's algorithms giving me the most relevant content. There are many great products that the FB platform has to offer and it is the reason I don't need the more trendy social networks, a la Instagram/Snapchat.

Facebook Messenger is a fantastic product and it is the main communication platform that I use on a daily basis (you can easily send photos and files). Facebook Groups makes communicating within a group a lot nicer, since you can selectively choose notifications (where you can't on a normal mailing list).

Facebook events is great for inviting people to parties, social gatherings, study groups, etc. and you can invite by group.

I simply don't care about privacy.

I value my social life, and I value being able to actually communicate with my friends.

I have made a conscious and rational decision that my social life is more valuable to me than my privacy.

That's wonderful but your choice is your choice and shouldn't invalidate how others choose to live their lives.

Since each app has to request your permission to access your location info, it sounds like you're happy with the status quo then.

I'm not quite sure how that works for you but generally speaking, social life is all about privacy - yours and more importantly others.

You don't share everything to everybody or you end up being the sucker that gets the news late or not at all because he can never shut the fuck up.

Even if you are careful about others privacy, you can be a victim of the carelessness of others. As an example, we have friends on FB we can no longer read any news due to them friending people careless about their privacy wishes. Everything now is coded messages like "Worked better than expected. Next step tomorrow at 10", so you must have had a conversation with them outside of FB in order to know what the fuck is going on - which is the reason why we had FB in the first place.

"Any intelligent individual" knows that all social networks track location/behavior. "Any intelligent individual" knows that DOJ/NSA/cell providers can track your position with your cell phone. "Any intelligent individual" knows that a collection of HTTP requests can quickly identify patterns in behavior and preferences. "Any intelligent individual" knows that a few purchases with the same credit card number builds a fairly precise understanding of age/demographic information.

What makes one person's personal privacy/communication breakover point better than another?

I think they're conflating "intelligent individual" as sharing their own personal opinions on sharing meta data.

I could say that "intelligent individuals" don't project their personal views on favorable demographics, but then I would be doing the same.

I'm glad the 20-somethings in your circle haved moved off of Facebook, but mine haven't, including my girlfriend. I'm just not willing to be the one guy always insisting we IM on something else. I might get rid of it upon graduation but until then it's the de facto communication tool and it's not worth the hassle to fight this.

> then that's probably a sign you need to find more down to earth friends.

No faster way to get people to agree with you than to insult their friends ;)

I use Facebook, and I consider myself very privacy conscious. How do I reconcile that? I decide what I want to share (very little) and only log in occasionally, for the odd update. It's a pragmatic view and a reasonable one. I don't feel the need to cut myself off from a convenient social resource on principle alone. I have to make decisions on what personal details I share about myself all day, every day (such as commenting here, for example)–Facebook is just another example of that.

I agree that lack of user knowledge (and, therefore, consent) with location information on messages is worrying though, and should be addressed.

What are the downsides to using Facebook as a communication tool? I have: a fake email, a fake name, no mobile number attached and I don't post statuses.

Facebook groups and messages however are just so incredibly convenient and ubiquitous that you won't be able to convince entirely separate groups of people to leave and use a service you mandate - unless you are friends with solely technical people.

Could I be a member of the groups and organizations I am without being in the Facebook groups? Sure - but it would inconvenience everyone, if there's a discussion in a group, and someone tags me to get my opinion on something, I can fire back a reply. They don't have to call or email me separately.

So you think Facebook doesn't know who you really are? Just because you use a fake name and email and no phone number? That's cute...

They know who you are. Rather, they know that someone exists with your cultural, political and social preferences, and with all the people with whom you're friends.

And then people tag you in their photos. So Facebook may not strictly know your name, but any agency (of course, never in America!) who backdoors or coerces Facebook could learn everything about you.

It's the network effect. There are no other good ways to keep casually in touch with people from 100+ countries that I know of. Sure, people you can just go and have a coffee with isn't a problem, but those you have to fly 4+ hours to see are a different matter.

These 20-somethings - they're also moving off of Google properties? Or is it just facebook data you're concerned about?

I believe all of us here are with some intelligent. Therefore, we all know what facebook collects about us. So everyone makes a decision to use it or not. Plain and simple.

I don't agree with statements such as 'hard to grasp why any intelligent individual [uses it]'. If that's your opinion then great but not everyone should have the same opinion.

OP's inability to grasp something is entirely their problem, not Facebook's. I object when privacy is taken from me. I will, however, give up a degree of privacy in exchange for convenience. That is informed consent.

If one's news feed is full of gossipy rubbish and stuff they aren't interested in, then one either need to learn how to customise one's feed (easy) or get better friends. Facebook make it pretty damn easy to do the former.

Facebook is a content sharing platform and one's friends are making the content. If the content is rubbish, that says more about the people involved than it says about Facebook.

I live in a different country to almost all of my friends and family. Facebook is how we stay in touch. Some of my friends don't check their emails on a regular basis and don't use Google Hangouts. Facebook is incredibly useful for people in my position.

It's not necessarily about gossip and judgment. Consider two different kinds of friendship groups. There are small, close-knit ones, where everyone is friends with everyone, and everyone wants Alice to be there. And there are large, loose ones, where if Alice doesn't show up, nobody might even notice.

In the first case, if Alice isn't on facebook, they might make plans on facebook and someone will say "cool, I'll let Alice know". In the second case, they might make plans on facebook and nobody will think to do that. Her closer friends might - but her closer friends might not even be going, and that doesn't mean she doesn't want to go.

I came to the conclusion that I should leave Facebook quite a while ago now. However, almost all of my friends have and constantly use Facebook, and it remains almost their sole method of contacting me. My friend group and I are all around 16, so that likely explains things.

I'm not sure. Aren't teenagers supposed to be the demographic most likely to change networks?

There is an element of inertia and of being held hostage though. Why go through the hassle of everyone changing networks of Facebook still works? And no-one can leave on their own...

Friend groups that use Facebook Messenger pretty much exclusively to stay in contact. Leaving it behind would mean losing touch, missing out on plans, etc.

I use Facebook for networking and marketing because there is no better option.

So there's one reason.

At this point, I'm just on FB to keep up with family, and to share baby photos. Basically, a kind of glorified white pages.

The fact that you find this hard to grasp says a lot more about your intelligence than it does of the average Facebook user. It's not exactly a mystery.

we can't all be cool, socially active 20-somethings :) my friends' demographic is definitely facebook-using

> the message locations have more than 5 decimal places of precision, making it possible to pinpoint the sender’s location to less than a meter.

Precision is not the same as accuracy. Although the reported values may have 5 decimal places of precision, I find my location is often a bit off.

Indeed. ~2m is the limit of accuracy for a typical smartphone GPS - I've gotten down to 1.3m when standing in an open area for >10 minutes with 12 satellites in view, but that's an exceptional case.

In practice, accuracy will be in the 5-10m range.

It doesn't make it any less creepy though... which then begs the question of how the number of people wanting to send their location would change with how "approximate" of a location (i.e. rounding to some radius) they're sending. Nearest 100m? 500m? 10km? 100km? State? Country? Continent? ... Planet? I would probably be fine with the last one, but no more than that for anyone I don't know well.

My phone – which combines GPS with GLONASS – usually gets about 40m accuracy with just GPS, but with combined GPS and GLONASS I have about 24 satellites in view, even in buildings, getting better than 1m precision.

In fact, the vast majority of modern smartphones support GLONASS.


It makes sense, north of 50°N GPS accuracy goes quickly down, as most of its satellites’ orbits are optimized for coverage over the equator.

I'm always frustrated when I see non-significant precision used in articles. Even more so when they are technical in nature. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Significant_figures

I use this facebook app now: http://i.imgur.com/Iyd43n6.png (Android)

It's either a well written FB app, or a no-permissions jail around Facebook's own hybrid-app/mobile-site. GPS no longer turns on, and messaging works for me.

Someone used that code to make Tinfoil for Twitter as well https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mill_e.twi...

I've found that just running Facebook's mobile site in Chrome works pretty well for most purposes.

I've been doing that since I found out they were requiring access to text messages. One year later and I have zero regrets.

It's ridiculous how many completely irrelevant permissions they demand!

Facebook's laundry list of permissions is perhaps the best example of how Android's permission system is completely broken.

I think Android's permission system works great. I saw Facebook's list of required permissions, considered whether these functions were necessary to provide the service I needed and whether I trusted Facebook to manage them for me, then declined to install the app.

I agree, but I'm not married enough to the native client to be upset about it when there's a perfectly good mobile site waiting for me.

If they tank their native site, well, then they won't get to harvest any more data from me.

You will still be tracked on other sites you browse if you are logged into Facebook with your primary browser. That is the benefit of an app like Tinfoil for Facebook, which keeps your Facebook cookie in a sandbox.

My last phone had Facebook as one of those apps that you couldn't uninstall. I was so pissed, I've never had any sort of Facebook app on my phone nor do I want one. Even if I never signed in. Absurd.

If you root your android device, you can install AppOps, which allows you to toggle the individual permissions on every application.

> If you root your android device,...

Not to hijack a thread, but: this is is why Apple's iOS is such a compelling case. They make it so easy to control access to the location/microphone/etc. in one tab: Settings -> Privacy -> Location Services

I don't know what Google is thinking, but given the current snooping climate you think they'd err on the side of the customer... but they don't.

They released an App Ops-like feature in an Android beta (I think it was KitKat, but don't quote me) and pulled it because it broke compatibility with so many apps.

(It caused an exception to be thrown whenever an app tried to access something that had been locked down by the user. Legacy apps obviously couldn't catch the exception, so typically the app would just crash.)

It seems easy to fix: can't they test the app in the app store and see if it can handle the exception or not, and if it can't, return a dummy (0,0) coordinate?

Actually testing every app sounds like a challenge Google isn't interested in taking on.

There's also the question of whether apps will still behave gracefully when receiving dummy data. Some apps may misbehave in ways such that it's not immediately apparent that the root cause is a permissions issue.

> I don't know what Google is thinking

That customer data is valuable for them, so "the more the merrier" ?

I use it in a second browser only for Facebook.

I'm not sure what value add this serves as an opt-out solution rather than opt-in. For people who have a strong desire to show their location, sure. But what possible reason could Facebook have to make this readily accessible to anyone you chat with on an opt-out only basis?

They could give the user a button or something to send their location into to whomever they are currently chatting with (to one person in person-to-person chat, or to the group in multi-user chat. This would give the user complete control over their data while still allowing most of the utility.

Of course, this wouldn't give facebook a detailed map of their user's movements.

As long as you don't manually revoke the app's permission to know about your location after you send it, what would stop them from building that map?

Honor? Politeness? Wanting to cultivate a healthy, respectful relationship with their users by not going behind their back? Not being creepy stalker who spies on everybody just because you might be able to make a profit from it?

Of course, this is Facebook, which has been fighting with Google for the title of "most creepy, intrusive, privacy-destroying business model". With their ethics, the answer to "what would stop them" is obviously "nothing".

There is a significant PR difference - reporting the GPS location at regular intervals is currently "just part of the regular status update", where Facebook gets to act as a passive man-in-the-middle who records those updates. If sending the location data as seen in all user visible situations is a manually-triggered event, extra code to hand that data off at regular intervals only to Facebook wouldn't be able to hide under the assumption that "it's a feature". In an ideal world, this would be criminal access to unauthorized data. In the current environment of legalized spyware, we are back to "nothing" mentioned previously.

(The terrible granularity in the permission models in these environments is a huge problem. As it affects far more than just location data, that is a topic for another day)

I'm guessing it's advertising / marketing related. Maybe they aren't doing anything yet with the data, but I'm sure the terms and conditions allow them to do whatever they want with it in the future. Being able to stalk your friends is how they make people willing to give them the data.

Here's the thing, though: they absolutely could do that without the user knowing (I'm sure plenty of companies do). By showing the location information to everyone, it makes this much more readily apparent to users and gives individual users way more information than is necessary. If Facebook wanted to get your location data through Messenger, they absolutely could do that fairly easily without notifying all of your friends of your whereabouts with every message.

Honestly, and maybe I'm in the minority, showing that information readily to my friends is MORE of a red flag than if Facebook solely had that data. Because let's be honest... they already have that data from my usage on the FB app (albeit at a lower frequency).

"where are you?" "when will you show up?" "you back home yet?"

A lot of these things are questions I routinely get/ask in things like messenger. People with location on usually help us to coordinate things and the like.

Google Hangouts solves this problem in a much more sane way -- Whenever my girlfriend sends me "where are you?" on hangouts, the application prompts me to send a map pin.

This solution probably isn't particularly novel, but it's probably better than carte blanche location access, in the opinion of most people.

Google also provides opt-in location tracking via Google+ [0]. You specify who can view your location, and whether it is fine (GPS coordinates) or course (city-level).

My wife and I use this service and find it quite useful - it seems like a much more sane way to handle location sharing than to simply attach your exact location to every message you send by default.

Sadly, since it's buried in Google+, most people are probably unaware of it.

[0] https://support.google.com/plus/answer/2998354?hl=en

Yeah, this was supposed to be the replacement for Latitude right? You have to know exactly where it is in the app though to find it, it's really not very discoverable

But that doesn't really answer the question of why sending your location to everyone BY DEFAULT is a good idea.

Yeah, I guess so. Beyond the malicious reasons, there could just be the thought that the utility outweighs the privacy costs for the user experience. Especially considering your FB friends are supposedly people you know in real life and trust (at least more than people you might have on other IM services).

I can understand the divisiveness, but I can also imagine people working on messenger (who probably use it a lot more than you or I) being on this, and genuinely believing it leads to a better user experience for most people (see read receipts).

your FB friends are supposedly people you know in real life and trust

According to the article, this feature is also enabled for group chats, where you converse with people who are not even your FB friends.

people working on messenger

I happen to be working on a mobile messenger [0], and I can see the benefit of transmitting user location. Still, I would never implement it as an on-by-default feature on all outgoing messages. Sending a location should always be an explicit action performed by the user, for battery preservation reasons as much as because of the privacy.

[0] https://yaxim.org/

your FB friends are supposedly people you know in real life and trust

If the FB developers think that's generally true, I'd say they are pretty incompetent. Even my parents, with just a couple dozen friends, have FB friends they have never met, let alone my teenage brother and his friends, who have hundreds of FB friends each.

This is usually not a problem, since they don't post sensitive information on their timeline, only in the chat to specific people.

It probably actually is a problem but most people don't realise it.

Even when people are incredibly careful people do unwittingly post things that allow others to identify them. They may not reveal much in any individual post but when you combine a few together its a problem.

1 prime example is a friend who posted an invite to a house warming party then a week later posted from their holiday abroad...

The banality of evil: they got so used to tracking the exact location of their users at all times, and sharing that information with advertisers, that they didn't realise that it might not be a good idea to systematically leak it to other people.

Oh, I'm sure they knew what they were doing. They just don't care if it's a good idea for you. It's a great idea for them and their partners.

The funny part is why Facebook sends the exact GPS coordinates. All the end users see if a rough estimate, typically the city name.

This is really, really bad for people in abusive relationships.

Being in an abusive relationship is bad for people.

Is my relationship with Facebook an abusive relationship? Only tongue-in-cheek.

Yes, it is. Maybe not physically abusive, but definitely emotionally and trust-ly abusive.

You think you are in a relationship with facebook, but facebook is secretly also in a relationship with all kinds of three letter agencies, state actors and advertisers - and tells them everything you told facebook.

If you know it and can prove it, it's not a secret. Advertisers definitely not secretly, you can easily see what information advertisers see at facebook.com/ads

Facebook only knows what you are telling it, maybe don't announce your next bank robbery on your status update and you'll be alright

> Facebook only knows what you are telling it, maybe don't announce your next bank robbery on your status update and you'll be alright

Right, because only criminals have something to hide. Maybe it's my generation, but I don't automatically trust Facebook (or the government for that matter, hello IRS) with the safety and security of my personal information. There are plenty of bad actors out there who can take my perfectly innocent movements and information and either ruin my life for the hell of it, or steal my identity and profit from it.

That was my point made with an exaggerated example. If you don't want Facebook knowing where you work, where you went to school, etc - Don't give Facebook that information.

If that means you don't want to give Facebook anything at all, you're allowed to do that too. Don't register an account, block their domains with your hosts file, block their networks with your firewall.

I think it was a hostile way to make your point, that's what I was calling out. You basically said "if you have something to hide, you're a criminal". There are better ways to get your point across.

Fair comment, I'll take that on board when making future points

Facebook doesn't only know what you are telling it - Facebook knows a lot about you even if you don't have a Facebook account. They create "shadow profiles" of non-users through info about you your friends give to Facebook. They may also track non-users through Facebook beacons and "like" buttons placed on other sites.

Plus Facebook can very trivially figure out where you work without you telling them. Let's say a colleague lists they work at Initech. They then create a group called "co-workers" and add you to it. Now Facebook can do some very simple datamining and figure out you work at Initech. You betcha they do that.

Even if you don't have an account and browse the web like RMS, you still probably have a shadow profile unless you have no friends. If a friend gives the Facebook app permission to view it's phonebook (typical) and you are in it now Facebook knows and stores everything about you that's in your friend's phonebook - name, email, phone number, possibly home address, etc. This is one way it creates shadow profiles.

Facebook has face recognition software - need I say how much they can gather about you if your friends post pictures of you online?

Unless you installed AdBlock[Plus], uBlock[Origin], Disconnect, Ghostery, etc - then facebook knows about every page you've ever visited that had a "like button", whether you were logged in to facebook at the time or not, whether you've pressed the "like button" or not. Did you intend to tell them that? Your browser did anyway.

Also, they know everything your friends say about you (your pictures, which they feed into their face rec engine to find you even if you weren't tagged; and the exif data in those pictures often gives location data ...). And they have a shadow profile of you even if you never created a profile yourself.

Oh, and they have a copy of your phone contacts if you use the FB app or the whatsapp app.

All of this is documented by Facebook.

Facebook knows a lot more about you than what you are explicitly telling it.

Yep, but its not easy to escape from abuse. Until people accept they are being abused they will deny it.

Hopefully Facebook doesn't treat you differently based on this article. Good luck with your internship!

I'd say he is an awesome hire! Interested and able, also with seemingly a good understand of privacy and social location data. Handling GEO data for individuals is very very tricky.

Thinking the same thing here.

iPhones have something very similar enabled by default as well: http://www.zdnet.com/article/four-privacy-settings-you-shoul...

The joy of mobile apps, pulling as much permissions as possible during install, and abusing of them whenever you run them. When I see this the debate between native apps and web apps is over, and it does not end with native apps winning.

> When I see this the debate between native apps and web apps is over, and it does not end with native apps winning.

You're acting like most people care about permissions. 99% of users just click through everything.

the joy of Android Mobile apps. I dislike Apple for many reasons, but the permission model on iOS is a lot saner than on Android.

You still end up giving away your privacy just the same. I'm not sure how that's different.

A minor nit-pick, most GPS chips will happily give out a position as a best-effort.

The actual accuracy of the measurement is given by the dilution of position (DOP), which does not appear to be in the data shown in the blog post.

This would undermine their ability to pin-point their location to within a meter, as the DOP could be very high; especially in areas with lots of tall buildings or other problematic environments.

From the comparisons, it looks like the author's GPS is getting a very low DOP (i.e. a good, clean signal from a constellation of >= 5 GPS satellites).

Either way -- still glad I don't use FaceBook, and an interesting find!

The app does not only uses GPS, it uses an underlying framework that gather position from GPS and other sources like Wifi location databases, which are much more precise.

Nice extension. I did a similar project to plot conversations on Google Earth when I realized how much location information was available: https://github.com/maxmouchet/messenger-to-earth

You can also see if your friends are currently active using their browser, mobile device, or are inactive. These data could be used to infer usage rates over time. It might not sound that intrusive, but the tone is very different if you were to graph these same data per friend over, e.g., a month.

Get your loved ones off Facebook from Salim Virani http://saintsal.com/facebook/

"I've been a big Facebook supporter - one of the first users in my social group who championed what a great way it was to stay in touch, way back in 2006. I got my mum and brothers on it, and around 20 other people. I've even taught Facebook marketing in one of the UK's biggest tech education projects, Digital Business Academy. I'm a techie and a marketer -- so I can see the implications -- and until now, they hadn't worried me. I've been pretty dismissive towards people who hesitate with privacy concerns. [...] With this latest privacy change on January 30th, I'm scared."

Feature request: auto-click-on every conversation you've had in messenger when you navigate to /messages so you don't need to do it manually. Considering it doesn't persist past a reload...

There's a setting in Messenger to disable it for all chats. And on iOS, just disable location services for Messenger.

I don't think you understand my comment. I don't want to disable it.

I actually didn't want this to be used as a tool to "auto-stalk" your friends so I didn't add features such as this one (however feel free to fork the code and add it yourself)

Hmm, where do you see this? I don't use Messenger, but many of my friends do, and I've never seen this. Is it only for Messenger-to-Messenger chats?

I couldn't get a screenshot with the map popped-up, but if you go to "see all" on the web, you can get a full-screen view with these little location pins. Hovering over them gives you a map.


Ah, thank you, these weren't in the small chat windows. Clicking on them gives you a full, browsable map, as well.

Refused to install messenger from the start. Facebook is a sketchy company (in my opinion) & I'm fast starting to think the same of Google.

You cannot only detect with 90% accuracy where they are but also with 90% accuracy that they're running Android.

intimidating..told a few friends about their locations and got unfriended. It explains how much people are scared about their daily privacy information.

If they "unfriended" you for that they weren't really friends anyway.

You are the product.

A platitude is meaningless. GP is actually a true statement about using FaceBook.

You don't have to agree with it. It's a commonly part of the dictionary definition.

And then you remember where Facebook's initial funding sources came from....

Which funding do you mean? They seem to be quite normal, open companies and people with interest in these kind of startups. For people interested in this [1].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Facebook#Initial_fun...

I believe rand334 is referring to the video below, regarding US government connections.


Those connections show a blurring of the lines between government and corporations, which we all know exist, but don't really seem to indicate an actual active connection currently exists (on that level).

It seems to be taking the radical conservative viewpoint of Thiel as granted, while those are at best part of his viewpoint. Also Thiel is supposed to be part of the board of a radical group, but the text was hard to hear (Vanguard VAC) is what I could come up with), while I could find no such connection on the internet.

In-Q-Tel itself has a lot of controversy, but again, controversy doesn't imply any truth. There have been In-Q-Tel companies that have worked perfectly fine and we don't see as anything bad, for example Keyhole.

The channel itself also doesn't breathe neutrality to me, though that doesn't mean I'd take their claims for not true, it does indicate some more research from them would have been nice. It seems to be more based on loose connections instead of proven active collaborations.

What exactly do you think is good, okay, or normal about In-Q-Tel, the CIA's VC firm, having connections to the world's most popular social network... blows my mind.

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