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“Nearby Friends” makes creepy debut on Facebook

Glenn Greenwald released one of the biggest stories of the year in June 2013.

The Guardian headline read “NSA Collecting Millions of Verizon Customers Daily.” Since then, an unprecedented amount of information has been released disclosing the extent of the powers of the National Security Administration and the diminishment of privacy in the U.S and other countries.

Many critics have called this “Orwellian.” The Edward Snowden disclosures leave us in an environment that feels less and less private and more public than ever before.

Facebook is not so different from the NSA. Like the NSA, Facebook has access to a huge bulk collection of people’s data, and like the NSA, Facebook represents a move towards continuous, unprecedented diminishment of privacy.

But unlike the NSA, they use this data as a means to create profit.

The Washington Post released an article Thursday morning about Facebook’s new app called “Nearby Friends,” a real time friend tracker.

The app lets you share your general or specific location with friends.

Facebook recognizes that the app is a bit creepy and has an opt-out option. It also allows you to display a general location such as a vicinity, rather than exact location. Exact locations will only be disclosed to a friend who has agreed to share that spot with you.

In the Washington Post article, Facebook co-founder Andrea Vaccari described the app as “a map and puts all your friends on there.”

The move by Facebook seems like another move to profit on the increasing amount of public data that they have.

Facebook has the largest bulk data collection of any site, even larger than the NSA.

According to a 2013 Facebook release, the site has surpassed 1.19 billion monthly active users. To put it in perspective, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world.

That’s a whole lot of data.

Facebook depends on “surveillance” to profit from their bulk data.

In a 2008 paper by communication professor Nicole Cohen at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, titled “The Valorization of Surveillance: Towards a Political Economy of Facebook” Cohen explains:

“Not only is surveillance the method by which Facebook aggregates user information for third-party use and specifically targets demographics for marketing purposes, but surveillance is the main strategy by which the company retains members and keeps them returning to the site.”

An example of how Facebook profits from surveillance is the news feed.

“Not only is the news feed a means of constant surveillance on one’s friends, but it provides Facebook with an innovative and non-intrusive way to incorporate advertising into its cite,” Cohen said in the essay.

News feed, and targeted advertising are just some of the ways Facebook profits with their surveillance.

“Nearby Friends” is yet another move to do just that.

According to the Washington Post article, the idea of “Nearby Friends” is “to make it easier to set up spontaneous coffee dates with friends,” but we as an informed society must think more critically than that.

“Nearby Friends” is more than an attempt for Facebook to make real world social connections for its users—it’s a way for them to extend their surveillance and their profits.

And it’s all in an effort to maximize on their bulk of information.

I won’t say that you shouldn’t get the app, I’m not even going to say that it’s creepy to want to know where your friends are at all times of the day.

All I’m saying is, information is power.

Maria Esquinca may be reached at [email protected].

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“Nearby Friends” makes creepy debut on Facebook