Facebook is adding a new privacy control to its Android app today that allows users to prevent the social network from accessing their location when the app isn’t open. The update comes just days after CNBC reported that Facebook’s security team had used location information to track missing interns and users deemed to be threats.
Granting an Android app access to your location is an all-or-nothing deal: you either have to prevent the app from seeing your location at all, or you have to grant it full use of your location. That comes down to how Android works. Google requires that apps get permission to use your location, but it doesn’t offer options for when your location data can be used.
Facebook says that, in the past, it didn’t actually use the ability to check in on Android users’ background location unless they also opted-in to a setting called “location history,” which is required to use some location-based features, like one that alerts you to nearby friends. But now, whether Facebook is allowed to do that or not is much more explicit, with a specific toggle allowing you to approve or deny the app’s access to your location at all times.
On iOS, Apple already presents the option to block an app from using your location in the background, so an update there isn’t needed. Facebook says it’s going to be sending out alerts anyway to both iOS and Android users, asking them to review their location settings.
Last week, CNBC reported on how Facebook’s security team once used the service’s access to location data in an attempt to track interns who hadn’t shown up for work. The company is also reported to have tracked the location of users deemed to be threats.
Fortunately, Google might resolve this issue for good in the near future. Early leaks from Android Q show that the next version of Google’s OS will allow users to approve location access “only while the app is in use,” just like on iOS.
Update February 20th, 3:45PM ET: A Facebook spokesperson said the company did not use background location on Android unless a user also enabled a feature called “location history.”