In simpler times, a Facebook feature called Nearby Friends was thought to be a handy way to find out if any of your friends were close by so you could hang out. These days, online users are more cautious about sharing their location data with the tech giant and less likely to use such a tool. That could help to explain why, after eight years, Facebook is shutting down this longtime feature.
Facebook is alerting users through emails and News Feed notifications that Nearby Friends, along with Weather Alerts, location history and background location will be discontinued as of May 31, 2022. According to an informational message, the features will no longer collect information after that date, and by August 1, 2022, the location history and background location information that had previously been shared will be deleted.
Facebook advises users they can still log in to access their information or even download a copy before August 1, if they want to view or delete the information on Facebook's site before the cutoff date or keep a copy for their records. They can also choose to disable the features' ability to collect their location information before the end date.
Although these features were specifically powered by location data, Facebook says it will continue to collect users' location information for other experiences across its platform as described by its Data Policy. For example, location data is still used to personalize ads, for posts with check-ins, Facebook Events and more.
The closures were first spotted by social media consultant Matt Navarra when he noticed an alert in his notifications.
Facebook is removing Nearby Friends, Weather Alerts, and location history features from May 31st 2022 pic.twitter.com/OfwaVemu39
— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) May 5, 2022
We've also seen these notifications arrive via email for those who had the Nearby Friends feature enabled.
Image Credits: Facebook
Facebook's Nearby Friends feature debuted on the market at a time when location-based social networking apps were taking off.
In fact, many companies were battling for users' attention in the space, including startups like Highlight (founded by Clubhouse's Paul Davison, who later sold it to Pinterest), Banjo (which died after its founder was revealed to have been linked to the KKK), Sonar (a TechCrunch Disrupt finalist which wound down without an exit), Foursquare (which pivoted and lived) and many others that are no more.
Facebook had been looking to compete in the space, as well, so it did what it usually does: it bought something.
While one might think that today's consumers would be generally less inclined to share their location through social networking features in general, as it turns out, that's not quite the case. It's just that Facebook didn't win the market -- Snapchat did. The app's Snap Map feature lets users see their friends' locations, as well as view Snaps users submit to the Map from all over the world. Snap also acquired social maps app Zenly in 2017 and continues to operate. Apple and Google also both offer tools to find friends and family, as do dedicated family tracking services like Life360 and others provided by mobile operators.
In other words, Facebook didn't win this market and the service's closure is an admission of that. Because even though the closure follows a period of increased regulation over user data privacy, if Nearby Friends was an actively used service by hundreds of millions of users, the company would likely try to maintain it. Facebook has also been shuttering other services that weren't gaining enough traction including, recently, its audio products.
Facebook confirmed the shutdown is global in nature and began rolling out earlier last week.
"While we're deprecating some location-based features on Facebook due to low usage, people can still use Location Services to manage how their location information is collected and used," a Facebook spokesperson said.
Updated, 5/9/22, 5:31 PM ET to clarify Zenly doesn't power Snap's Maps product.