WhatsApp tests real-time location sharing in its app



Facebook may be distancing itself from location-sharing between friends in its own app, but Facebook-owned WhatsApp appears to moving in this direction. A new feature spotted in the beta version of the popular mobile messaging software shows that WhatsApp has developed a real-time location-tracking option that could be used among the app’s friends.

The addition was spotted this week via Fortune and the Twitter account @WABetaInfo.

The new feature is called “Live Location Tracking” in the beta software, and is currently found in Android (ver. 1.16.399) and iOS (ver. 2.17.3.28). At present, the way it works is that it allows a user to turn on live location tracking for a period of time they control. The app offers one, two and five minute options. During this time, select recipients would be able to follow your exact location in the app.

There’s also another option, “Enabled Indefinitely,” that can be switched on.

The feature would make sense for times when you’re trying to meetup up with a friend, or a group of friends, in a crowded location. Or, it could be used among family members as an alternative to a paid family locator service.

The implementation of the option has also been designed in a way that would limit users’ privacy concerns over the matter. It appears the option is switched off by default, as it should be, and WhatsApp users are able to control how long the sharing continues.

Location sharing like this is already available on iMessage, through the “Share My Location” setting. However, iMessage offers slightly different options. You can share for an hour, through the end of the day, or indefinitely.

While not all beta features will necessarily launch to the public, the fact that Location Sharing is in testing across platforms is a positive sign that WhatsApp is moving forward with the setting.

The move is notable given the increased privacy concerns around the mobile messenger as of late, following the uproar over a misreported news story that implied the app had a backdoor in its software. That’s not the case. The company made a design decision regarding security keys that’s more of a tradeoff, or, at worst, a vulnerability. It does not offer a backdoor to governments. WhatsApp also went on record to say that it would fight any government request to create a backdoor.

The problem with a story like this is that once word gets out – even if untrue – users may be hesitant to adopt a new feature like location-sharing because they’re now confused about the nature of WhatsApp’s privacy.

The move also comes at a time when Facebook has shut off its own exact location-sharing option through Nearby Friends, which worked similarly to the WhatsApp option. That is, you could choose to either temporarily or permanently share your constant exact location on a map with specific friends.  Now, Facebook users can only opt in to have your approximate distance from friends and current neighborhood shared.

The earlier implementation had made the social network feel a little creepy, especially if you forgot to turn permanent sharing off. That’s why it’s a little odd to see the same sort of precise location-sharing now arriving in Facebook-owned WhatsApp. But perhaps there’s a better sense of privacy in an app that’s designed more as a closed door SMS replacement, rather than a larger, social network?

The feature is one of several new additions WhatsApp is testing. Also in the works is the ability to delete and edit sent messages that are still unread, the ability to reply to users’ statuses, and shake your phone to report bugs and problems to the WhatsApp support team.

WhatsApp declined to comment on location sharing, saying only: “We do not comment on future product releases.”

 



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