Facebook's New Location Settings Give Users More Control

Now Android users can let Facebook access GPS data when the Facebook app is open but not when it's in the background

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Facebook is rolling out a new privacy setting that gives Android users more control over when the Facebook app has access to their device’s GPS data.

For the first time, Android users can grant Facebook access to the data when the app is in use and prevent the company from collecting it at other times.

The setting, called Background Location, brings Android users a privacy control that was already available to consumers using iPhones and iPads. Apple’s iOS settings gives users three choices for apps that request location data: always, never, or exclusively when an app is in use. The Android operating system only lets users turn an app’s location access on or off entirely.

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“I think a lot of users don’t really understand the ways Facebook gets access to geolocation data, so this is an improvement,” says Justin Brookman, Consumer Reports’ director of consumer privacy and technology policy.

The new setting clears up some of the confusion surrounding the company’s Location History control, which previously has drawn criticism from privacy and security experts for a lack of transparency.

The previous Location History setting combined a couple of Facebook behaviors. It let users determine whether the company could build a timeline of a user’s locations using GPS data, which enabled features such as “Nearby Friends” and “Find WiFi.” But letting Facebook build that timeline also gave the company permission to collect GPS data when the app wasn’t in use. It was both, or nothing.

“Tying those functions together was confusing for people,” Brookman says.

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Thomas Germain

I want to live in a world where consumers take advantage of technology, not the other way around. Access to reliable information is the way to make that happen, and that's why I spend my time chasing it down. When I'm off the clock, you can find me working my way through an ever-growing list of podcasts. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( thomas.germain@consumer.org) or follow me on Twitter ( @ThomasGermain) for my contact info on Signal.