OK Facebook, you really need to make up your mind about what you say in public. And it would probably be a lot easier if you didn’t sneak certain features past your customers. The social network recently admitted to using smartphone location data to recommend friends to people, after someone discovered a recommendation that had no other reasonable explanation than the harvest and use of location data.
But now, Facebook says that’s not what it’s doing at all.
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“Location information by itself doesn’t indicate that two people might be friends,” a Facebook spokesperson told Fusion a few days ago. “That’s why location is only one of the factors we use to suggest people you may know.”
As Fusion reports, multiple people took to the internet to reveal they also received weird friend recommendations in the past, likely based on location information – check out these Reddit and Slashdot threads.
Fusion says that on Monday night after seeing plenty of negative feedback, Facebook reversed its stance on the issue. The company dug further into the matter and found that “we’re not using location data, such as device location and location information you add to your profile, to suggest people you may know.”
Facebook did run a pilot late last year that used location data for the friend suggestion feature. But it was never rolled out to the general public.
“We ran a small test to use city-level location to better rank existing [“People You May Know] candidates and not all were aware that the test had ended,” a Facebook spokesperson told Fusion. “The test ran for four weeks at the end of 2015.”
So does this mean the people who complained online about having seen location-based suggestions in Facebook were all part of that test? That’s not likely, and Facebook didn’t explain how these strange recommendations like the one reported by Fusion earlier this week would be possible if location data isn’t used.
Fusion speculates that Facebook could be looking at IP addresses and wireless networks rather than GPS or cellular location data to determine location and issue recommendations. The site also says that the Federal Trade Commission may be happy to learn that Facebook is using such a feature without proper consent from users. The FTC recently fined a mobile advertising company $4 million because it figured out location information based on wireless network data and tracked hundreds of millions of consumers’ locations without their explicit consent.