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Facebook will track you, even when you’re not looking

The purpose of the app, according to a report in Bloomberg, is to help users find nearby friends – but it has the potential to do much more, and is the latest in a series of attempts by Facebook to gain traction in – and monetize – the mobile market.

Facebook’s location journey started in 2010 with a product called Places, a location check-in app. A year later it was killed off and replaced by Nearby, an app that combined location with context – but could easily be turned off. But Nearby didn’t last either, and was pulled last summer. “This wasn’t a formal release — this was just something that a few engineers were testing,” Facebook told Wired magazine.

Meanwhile, the company had acquired Glancee. Glancee offered a new direction – Glancee is about ambient social geo-data while Nearby was a check-in app. "We spent a lot of 2012 working to improve the foundation of our mobile products", a Facebook representative told Read Write. "... Nearby positions us well to offer more location aware features on mobile in the new year.”

The new year is here and Bloomberg expects the new product next month. The key difference is that the user no longer needs to check in; the app knows where people are even when it is turned off. “The tracking app could help Facebook sell ads based on users’ whereabouts and daily habits. It may also raise the hackles of consumers and privacy advocates concerned about the company’s handling of personal information”, reports Bloomberg.

It isn’t yet clear whether the new app will be iOS only or will include other mobile platforms. Apple’s developer guidelines mean that it would probably need to ask users for permission to track locations – but Bloomberg notes that this may be inherent in Facebook’s data use policy already accepted by the user. What the privacy regulators in the EU and FTC will make of continuous silent tracking remains to be seen.

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