- Facebook is beta testing live location tracking in its WhatsApp messaging app, according to TechCrunch.
- Users can select to have their live location turned on and viewable by their app contact for one, two or five minutes and there is an option to turn tracking on as “enabled indefinitely.”
- The tracking feature is turned off by default, and is being tested in both the Android and iOS versions of the app, a move that makes it more likely Facebook in intending on fully releasing some version of the feature.
Having access to exact live location data could be valuable for a group of friends trying to connect, and it gives people a no-cost version of paid family locator services that are available. The timing of the beta test is interesting because Facebook recently ended exact location sharing option via the “nearby friends” feature on the main platform, scaling that back to approximate distances.
WhatsApp, which has more than 1 billion users, said last year that it would begin sharing user data with Facebook and start offering messages from brands for the first time. While there is no mention of a marketing tie-in for the new location tracking service, it could conceivably be used to enable businesses to target nearby consumers or even for a check-in service. However, WhatsApp will need to proceed carefully, as two consumer privacy groups filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission following the announcement that it would share data for ad targeting.
Sensitivity around precise personal data such as exact location tracking can be a privacy issue, but the beta roll out seems to address those questions with the feature enabled by opt-in and giving the user control over how long they are sending their location to friends. Apple’s iMessage has a similar feature, but with less control over how long it is enabled with one hour, through one day or indefinitely the only options.
WhatsApp is also testing additional upgrades including the ability to delete and edit sent, but unread, messages; the ability to reply to users’ statuses; and the ability to shake the phone to report bugs and problems to the WhatsApp support team.