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Facebook uses location data to help find you new friends Reuters

UPDATE: Facebook has contacted IBTimes UK with the following statement, correcting what it was previously cited as telling Fusion (explained in original story, below).

The new statement reads: "We're not using location data, such as device location and location information you add to your profile, to suggest people you may know. We may show you people based on mutual friends, work and education information, networks you are part of, contacts you've imported and other factors."

Original story

It has been claimed Facebook suggests new friends based on the location of your smartphone, and who you have been near recently.

Speaking to Fusion, a news website, a man who wishes to remain anonymous said he suspected Facebook of using location data, after the social network suggested he befriend someone he met the previous day at a gathering for parents of suicidal teenagers.

Both parents had not met each other before the gathering and did not exchange contact details, which is a way Facebook can help connect people who already know each other.

It seems their only connection was being in the same place at the same time.

The man wondered if an open privacy setting on his smartphone had given Facebook access to his locational data, even when the app wasn't open and in use. As he suspected, Facebook was set to "always" have access to the phone's GPS data.

Facebook has admitted that locational data does play a part in serving up friend suggestions, but that location alone is not enough to make a match. However, if two people who do not know each other stand in the same room, and have some shared mutual friends (perhaps work colleagues, but met while working for the same company at different times), then they could appear in each others' suggested friends box.

Other factors at play

A spokesperson said: "We show you people [you may know] based on mutual friends, work and education information, networks you're part of, contacts you've imported [from your phone address book] and many other factors." These other factors include your location, however, the spokesperson added: "Location information by itself doesn't indicate that two people might be friends. That's why location is only one of the factors we use to suggest people you may know."

Clearly, there are good and bad outcomes here. Being able to finally chat to someone you bump into regularly, at your local bar or shop for example, or someone you met at a party but didn't exchange numbers with. But this kind of friend-matching could also be dangerous, such as in the above example where both parties wished to remain anonymous to the other gathering attendees. Facebook could even inadvertently match up people who were in court on the same day, or at a rehab centre, or the doctor's.

Speaking to Fusion, law professor Woodrow Hartzog said: "This feature will inevitably start outing people's intimate information without their knowledge...this is the kind of thing that people should be given explicit and multiple warnings about."