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Facebook Warns iOS 13 And Android 10 Users About Real-Time Location Tracking

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Facebook works better when it is tracking you, in real-time all of the time. That’s the warning being issued to users of the all-conquering social media platform ahead of imminent upgrades to Android 10 and iOS 13. Facebook’s features, says Facebook in a blogpost, work better when they can “use precise location even when you’re not using the app to make sure that alerts and tools are accurate and personalized for you.”

Facebook, whose privacy trespasses have dominated the tech headlines for 18 months is being fettered by new smartphone lockdowns. It’s almost reason enough to smile.

At risk, Facebook says, are “features like check-ins and making planning events easier.” Its ability to surreptitiously know where you are at all times of day and night “help improve ads and keep you and the Facebook community safe [with] features like Find Wi-Fi and Nearby Friends.”

So, to get this straight and for the avoidance of any doubt, users are being warned that if they protect their privacy it might have an adverse effect on Facebook’s ability to target ads and monetise user data. All said without even a trace of irony.

Privacy has become a new marketing tool. And so the new OS releases from Google and Apple include settings that let users “control when you share your device’s precise location with apps like Facebook,” Paul McDonald, Facebook’s platforms location engineering director explained. In practice, this means the new Android and iOS operating systems “include updates to how you can view and manage your location.”

Android 10 matches Facebook’s own settings, enabling a user to select whether their precise location is visible to Facebook even when not using the app. That means “if you’re already using Facebook’s background location setting, this update may cause a few instances where the Android and Facebook location settings will be out of sync.”

In practice, the risk is that the prominence of the new setting will see users adjust their location sharing for the first time. More likely than delving into Facebook’s own settings panel, runs the theory.

Facebook warns that “if you’re already using Facebook’s background location setting, this update may cause a few instances where the Android and Facebook location settings will be out of sync—but it will respect the most restrictive settings choice.”

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With iOS 13, it is even more complex, providing more user choice about when and how to share tracking information—especially in background. And there is the new tantalizing “allow once” setting that gives an app the ability to geolocate a user for a singleinstant and then not again unless a further permission is granted.

“If you are using iOS 13,” Facebook warns, “you will begin to receive notifications about when an app is using your precise location in the background and how many times an app has accessed that information.” One can’t help but think that the “warning” might be more for Facebook than the user.

iOS 13 will even “include a map of the location data an app has received and an explanation of why the app uses that type of location.” Ouch.

“You’re in control of who sees your location on Facebook,” says Facebook—at least you will be now. “We’ll continue to make it easier for you to control how and when you share your location,” is the promise. The question now, more so than ever before, will be exactly how much users really value their privacy versus the raft of convenient features that trade mostly trivial functionality for inordinate privacy compromises.

The destructive trail of leaks and breaches that has hit Facebook and the rest of social media since last year has started (at long last) to focus user minds on privacy and what is being traded away. And this goes beyond location tracking, to the underhand ways in which we are all tracked across websites and apps and services and devices.

This is a step in the right direction, and I would advise all users to err on the side of caution not convenience when sharing their data. You are being offered more control over who sees what in your lives, it makes sense to use it.

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