Bloomberg reports that Facebook is in the process of building a new app that would passively track users’ locations in order to help them find nearby friends. Even if only a small percentage of Facebook users activate the app, it could represent a potential threat to Foursquare.
The app, which builds off Facebook’s success in separate apps for photos and messaging, would track user locations in the background, without forcing users to pull out their phones to check in like Foursquare. Ostensibly the app is for alerting users when their friends are nearby (which in itself poses little threat to Foursquare), but the data gathered could clearly offer benefits to Facebook in other areas like pushing targeted advertising based on location and monitoring traffic trends at brick and mortar businesses.
Foursquare to date has shown only mild interest in passive location tracking. The Radar feature built into their iOS app is designed to alert users when they’re near places they might find interesting. Still in its fairly early stages, Radar hasn’t caught on among the majority of users because the notifications tend to lean toward irrelevancy. CEO Dennis Crowley has hinted, though, that passive features like Radar could be the future of Foursquare, alerting users to nearby deals and places they should try based on their past check-ins and friend recommendations.
A Facebook app aiming at the same general target could threaten Foursquare’s current location dominance. Facebook’s tremendous size gives it an advantage in that it only takes a small percentage of Facebook users to dwarf Foursquare’s 30 million users.
Facebook, of course, will need to overcome their muddy history with privacy to sell users on an app that constantly tracks their location. Users are still stung by the Beacon fiasco that tracked the places they went online and published them without their knowledge to Facebook. Tracking and announcing real world locations — even just to nearby friends — offers even more potential privacy violations.
The team building the app is comprised partially of acqui-hires from the former Glancee and Gowalla teams, both of which are very familiar with the location space. Glancee was a passive location tracker, while Gowalla offered an active check-in app akin to Foursquare.
There are certainly a lot of hurdles for Facebook to overcome before such an app becomes a threat to Foursquare, but it will be something to keep an eye on in the coming months.