Facebook offers Android users iOS-like control over background location tracking

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New settings will enable users to have finer control over Facebook’s collection of location data when the app is not in use.

Facebook announced that it’s giving users of its Android app more granular control over location data collection. Users will now have more options surrounding use of their location data. Previously Android offered a binary choice for location services and history: on or off.

Facebook gives users control of location when not using the app. In contrast to Android, iOS offers three location settings: never, always and while using the app. Facebook’s new background location control makes location on Facebook for Android more like iOS. Users can maintain location services but disallow background data collection when the app isn’t being used.

Current user settings to remain. Facebook isn’t changing any settings by default. According to the blog post: “For people who previously chose to turn their Location History setting ‘on,’ the new background location setting is ‘on.’ For people who had turned Location History ‘off’ – or never turned it on in the first place – the new background location setting is ‘off.’”

Facebook says it won’t turn on Location History “unless you specifically tell us to.” The company also says it’s going to send an alert to everyone who had Location History turned on in the past and prompt them to check their settings.

Facebook further explained that it’s updating location information to “estimate primary location at the city or postal code level.” The company recently introduced income targeting by ZIP code. This move is at least in part supportive of that initiative.

Beyond providing “nearby” benefits to users and being valuable for targeting, attribution and other advertising purposes, Facebook says it also captures user location for account security.

Why you should care. The collection of location data has become a central issue in the privacy debate in the U.S., which is gaining momentum. Facebook is smart to offer more control and transparency to users, many of whom have grown skeptical of the company in the wake of various data controversies.

A recent survey from location intelligence company Blis found that 83 percent of survey respondents were aware that marketers track their locations and many were ambivalent about or opposed to the practice. In addition, a majority of users were more aware of the use of their personal data by marketers this year than they were last year.

As U.S. privacy laws take on GDPR-like requirements, whether at the federal or state level, it will be incumbent on publishers, app developers and platforms to better educate users about the benefits of sharing their data. Through greater transparency and control, they can instill trust that has been eroded by complexity and secrecy.

In France, location data provider Teemo found that with more transparency and control, as compelled under GDRP, users were highly likely to opt-in to share location (70+ percent). This powerfully argues that embracing privacy will not kill or cripple marketers’ use of consumer data.

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