Facebook’s new “Nearby Friends” feature could be a tool for disasters

During Tuesday’s class we discussed different technology tools that can be used to respond to disasters. Today, I read an article on CNN.com about Facebook launching a new feature called “Nearby Friends” and I thought it could be an interesting tool that could be used to respond to natural disasters, though it certainly does have some drawbacks. If users choose to turn the feature on, their friends will be able to follow their location. The idea is that the feature will enable face-to-face interaction by allowing users to see which of their friends are nearby. Users are also able to choose which friends are able to access their location information. Furthermore, the location is only shared with friends who have agreed to also share their locations. The feature will automatically update the location of the user.

The initial safety and privacy concerns are mitigated since Facebook made the feature opt-in and gives users much flexibility in choosing who is allowed to view their location. Users must be cautious with who they allow to follow them and parents must be especially vigilant about their children. But, if used properly, it gives only people close to them the ability to view their location. In times of disaster, this could be extremely beneficial. Following disasters, family and friends often have a difficult time locating their loved ones. This feature has the potential to allow people to quickly locate their loved ones. It could be deployed in disaster zones for this purpose.  It is, however, limited in how much it could be used since the app would still require some type of network connection to continue sending updates.

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2 responses to “Facebook’s new “Nearby Friends” feature could be a tool for disasters

  • veggiemunster

    We also talked about how Facebook tracks everything you type into the update status bar, even if you don’t click post. If Facebook is doing research on why people do and don’t post, then why not also keep the data on where people have been? If they did, this could also be used by intelligence agencies to respond to crimes. Just like for a disaster, officials could ask Facebook for access to the data (as they do store owners in crime shows for video surveillance tapes), and use the data to track a suspect’s moves. This could stop a murder or help find a person to interrogate them, based solely on where they tend to end up on Mondays. Obviously, as we talked about with “conflict early warning systems”, this Facebook data could create new opportunities for the criminals themselves, monitoring potential victims. This is where security of information is so important–When did “Nearby Friends” launch? Was it before or after Heartbug? The “bad guys” could already have some of the information.

  • FOLLOWING FACEBOOK FRIENDS: Social network launches friend-tracking feature | HalfEatenMind

    […] Facebook’s new “Nearby Friends” feature could be a tool for disasters […]

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