Location settings allow scary Facebook stalking

The world has gone messaging mad, SMS text messages once the staple of most has been replaced by quicker and often cheaper messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. But how much thought do we actually give to the information messaging apps give out about us and especially those that offer location features aided by GPS?

Your friends are watching your every movement

Harvard university student Aran Khanna has developed a small extension for the Google Chrome browser that allows you to essentially stalk your Facebook friends and not only your friends but anyone who you engage in a messenger conversation with who has the location feature enabled. Most of us are aware that the enabled by default location setting beams out your current location to your contacts but with the extension developed by Khanna this information can now be collated and plotted on a map easily.

Location information on its own seems harmless enough but when gathered together and utilised Khanna discovered that for those who have location settings enabled on Facebook Messenger a picture of your everyday movements and what times you visit certain locations could be developed.

Facebook map

Precise locations paint a scary picture

The majority of us manage to breeze through life without being victim of a crime but without causing alarm statistics from the RAINN organisation who deal with rape and abuse crimes state that approximately 4 out of every 5 rape cases are carried out by someone known to the victim and 79% of murders reported to the FBI were carried out by friends, loved ones or acquaintances meaning it may be time for us all to consider which “facebook friends” we’re happy to share our daily movements with.

Privacy concerns do not stop at those we’ve potentially added as friends as those that engage in group chats also have the ability to ping off their current location in every message and so your movement could be available to strangers in groups you participate in.

Facebook stalking relatively easily achieved

The extension for Chrome known as Marauders Map was originally available to install and use without user input but at the request of Facebook it has now been partly deactivated. With the help of the author users can reactive the extension with 3-4 easy steps that can be completed by anyone capable of navigating their computer directory structure and making a few edits via Notepad.

Of course the extension relies on friends who mainly use a data connection to access Facebook Messenger and only those who haven’t disabled the location feature but with the feature coming enabled as standard and many unaware that the setting exists at all users could potentially be providing more information about their whereabouts than they intend.

Testing the extension against my limited Facebook friends list provided a small splattering of locations but for those who I converse with on a more regular basis it produced a rather eerie story of their movements over the whole history of our messaging conversation.

While the whole situation may already seem invasive enough the creepiness factor is further confounded with the realisation that location data submitted via Facebook Messenger contains 5 decimal places meaning it is entirely possible to narrow a user’s location down to within a metre. When viewed on a map you could potentially tell what room of an address your “friend” was in when sending a message… worrying huh?

The light at the end of the tunnel is a simple fix to stop anyone tracking your every movement and that is to ensure the location settings are turned off either in Facebook Messenger itself by making sure the target symbol is grey and not blue or by disabling GPS completely on your phone or mobile device.

Facebook Location Settings

Disabling location settings thwarts stalking extension.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *