Facebook Tries to Be Proactive With Stricter Location Data Settings Coming to iOS and Android

The social network may ‘still understand your location’ from check-ins, events and information about connections

The newest versions of the Android and iOS operating systems each contain more stringent privacy settings when it comes to applications accessing location data, and Facebook attempted to state its case for users to continue granting that access to its flagship app.

Google released Android 10 earlier this month, and vice president of engineering Dave Burke said in a blog post at the time, “You can choose to only share location data with apps while you’re using them. You’ll also receive reminders when an app that you are not actively using is accessing your location, so you can decide whether or not to continue sharing.”

Apple’s iOS 13, scheduled for release sometime this month, will contain a similar restriction, with software engineering chief Craig Federighi saying during the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference in June, “Sharing your location with a third-party app can really enable some useful experiences, but we don’t expect to have that privilege used to track us. So, this year, we’re building in even more protections. Now, for the first time, you can share your location just once and it will require it to ask you again next time it wants to.”

Facebook engineering director, location platform Paul McDonald wrote in a Newsroom post late Monday, “Facebook is better with location. It powers features like check-ins and makes planning events easier. It helps improve ads and keep you and the Facebook community safe. Features like Find Wi-Fi and Nearby Friends use precise location even when you’re not using the app to make sure that alerts and tools are accurate and personalized for you.”

McDonald noted that previous versions of Android contained an on/off switch for controlling an app’s access to the device’s precise location information and, while Facebook introduced a background location setting for Android in February, the new version of Android may cause instances where location settings in Android and on Facebook do not sync.

He said Facebook will continue to respect the most restrictive settings choice by people, offering as an example, “If your device location setting is set to ‘all of the time’ but your Facebook background location setting is off, we won’t collect your precise location information when you’re not using the Facebook app.”

The social network will also begin phasing out the background location setting for Android, instead reminding users to check the location settings on their devices.

Previous versions of iOS gave users three options for sharing their precise location data with apps: always, only when the app is in use, or never. iOS 13 adds a new setting, allow once.

McDonald said people who upgrade to iOS 13 will begin seeing notifications when apps are using their precise location data in the background, telling them how many times those apps have accessed that information and including a map of that location data and an explanation of how the app is using it.

However, even when Facebook isn’t directly collecting users’ location data, it is indirectly collecting that information. McDonald wrote, “We may still understand your location using things like check-ins, events and information about your internet connection.”

He concluded, “We’ll continue to make it easier for you to control how and when you share your location. We’re always building new features to help you explore the world around you, including Local Alerts to keep you informed on breaking news and the new map in the events tab to help you find things to do with friends nearby.”