Facebook Yanks Mobile Location-Tracking Feature

Questions were raised about how the feature, which debuted Sunday, may violate a member's privacy.

Facebook has quickly pulled a feature it launched Sunday that allowed mobile users of the social network to find fellow members who may be nearby.

Attempts to reach the webpage for the service displayed a blank page and the tab for the service on iPhones is returning an error message.

Facebook has issued a terse statement on the subject, saying, "We are constantly testing new features but have nothing more to share at this time."

As soon as the feature was first reported by TechCrunch, questions were raised about how it may violate a member's privacy. As has become standard operating procedure with Facebook, the feature was turned on by default. If left open, anyone within the proximity of another member could identify them, which could broaden the horizons of stalkers.

In addition to privacy concerns, Facebook was being accused by one of its developers of stealing the idea.

"I was amazed Sunday to read that Facebook is blatantly stealing our idea with what they are calling find friends nearby," Friendthem’s chief executive, Charles Sankowich told AllFacebook.

Facebook engineer Ryan Patterson told TechCrunch he was inspired to create the feature at a "hackathon." But Sankowich had an alternative origin for how Facebook got the idea for the feature: "[W]e believe they simply stole trademarked materials of Friendthem.com."

While the nearby friends feature has been taken offline for now, it could reemerge in the future after Facebook irons out the privacy and legal kinks in the offering. It may even turn out to be more useful than creepy.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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