Both Apple and Google are releasing new versions of their operating systems with privacy features that include the ability to limit what apps can do with your personal information--especially your location. Apple told us yesterday that the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 13, will be available next week (September 19), and Google released its most recent version (Android 10) last week.
Apple requires apps to let you know when they are using your location, for what reason, and will remind you if they continue to track you when you leave the app. iOS 13 also makes it easier to turn off location tracking with a simple tap. Android 10 now gives you more control over what apps can do with your location information.
Facebook, however, isn't having it. The world's largest social network really doesn't want you to turn off your location tracking. In fact, the company actually published a blog post on Monday, warning users that turning off location tracking would result in a worse overall Facebook experience. The post actually tries to make the case that protecting your privacy is bad for you.
And it would seem the reason Facebook is bringing this up now is that a lot of users are likely to be very surprised when they start getting notifications on their iPhone telling them when and how its app is using their location information.
I reached out to Facebook but did not immediately receive a response.
I guess, to be fair, they have a very small point, which is that there are some features that don't work if the app doesn't know where you are. For example, you can't "check-in" to a location if you don't tell Facebook your location. Or, tagging your current location in a photo requires that location search be turned on.
Specifically, Facebook, in its blog post says it needs to "use precise location even when you're not using the app to make sure that alerts and tools are accurate and personalized for you." Alerts and tools. I can't think of a single Facebook alert or tool so important that I need to let the app track me all the time.
Besides, let's be honest, there's really only one reason that Facebook needs your location turned on all the time: to show you location-based--or geo-fenced--advertisements.
The whole thing is really quite rich considering the problems Facebook has protecting user information. Last month, the company agreed to settle an investigation into privacy violations by paying a $5 billion fine, and just last week it was discovered that over 400 million users' personal information--including phone numbers--was leaked online.
But the company says it's only concerned with creating the best experience for its users. Here's a recipe for a good experience: don't track everything we do, and stop letting developers and bad guys have access to our personal information.
Both iOS 13 and Android 10 represent big steps forward in respecting user privacy, especially when it comes to location data. There are few things more intimate and personal than the location of where you are right now. Your location is where you actually exist and is usually a clue to what you're doing at the moment.
Users should absolutely get to decide who they share that with, and give credit to both Apple and Google (who isn't exactly known as a champion of privacy either) for making it easier to make that choice. If Facebook has a problem with that, well, that's a bigger problem.