Facebook has never specified the exact methods it uses to present friend suggestions within its "People You May Know" tab, but a new report by Fusion suggests that a shared GPS data point could be a bigger factor in curating friendship than Facebook wants users to know.
A nameless source told the site that he suspected the social network of digging into his location information to curate potential friendships with parents who had attended an anonymous meeting for suicidal teenagers.
When a fellow parent appeared on his People You May Know section -- without any shared contact information or interests -- he double checked the privacy settings of Facebook in his iPhone to prevent the app from "always" sharing his location. As far as he could tell, the sole factor in common between the two Facebook users had been the similar GPS location at one of the meetings.
Still, when Facebook was reached out to provide a comment, the company confirmed that location data, by itself, is never used for the purpose of presenting friendships on the social network. While this could be potentially useful for connecting with people you might forget to exchange contact information with, Facebook also realizes the potential for a breach of security if you happen to be visiting somewhere more private.
“People You May Know are people on Facebook that you might know,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We show you people based on mutual friends, work and education information, networks you’re part of, contacts you’ve imported and many other factors.”
“Location information by itself doesn’t indicate that two people might be friends,” said the Facebook spokesperson. “That’s why location is only one of the factors we use to suggest people you may know.”
Although the company has given no suggestion at making its use of geolocation more overt, law professor Woodrow Hartzog believes its automatic setting is something "that people should be given explicit and multiple warnings about." If you want to double check your own iPhone's privacy settings, visit the Settings app > Privacy > Location Services > and scroll down to find Facebook. Three options are available for security customization, including "Never," "While Using the App," and "Always."
Update: A Facebook spokesperson has reached out to MacRumors with the following statement:
"We’re not using location data, such as device location and location information you add to your profile, to suggest people you may know. We may show you people based on mutual friends, work and education information, networks you are part of, contacts you’ve imported and other factors.”