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Facebook has just rolled out a new feature called Nearby Friends which, as the name suggests, helps you to connect with those on your friends list who happen to be close-by. The tool is optional, however, so if you do wish to remain off the radar, you’re not obliged to participate.

Even though Facebook is often dubbed as a haven for those who like to stalk others, a great deal of thought looks to have gone into Nearby Friends in order to ensure that it isn’t abused by those who like to follow folks around.

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The interface is fairly simple. When you launch the Nearby Friends feature, you get a list of which friends are close to you geographically, and how long ago they were spotted in said location. However, it does not tell you precisely where this person was, only that they were, say, a mile away, and if said individual does wish to divulge this information to you, then you must send them a request.

The idea of Nearby Friends definitely has great potential, not only from a social networking aspect, but also from a business point of view. Having connected two or more friends using the feature, for example, Facebook could then tailor advertising depending on location / time of day, perhaps suggesting a place where all parties concerned may like to eat based on an aggregation of their respective ‘Likes’.

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Even though this feature could provoke resistance from the Privacy Police, Facebook appears to have put quite a bit of effort to ensure that nobody’s private location data is compromised without due consent. When enabling a friend to see your precise location data, for example, you can set a time limit on its expiry, after which, that person will no longer be able to find you.

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The bottom line of the matter is that Nearby Friends is optional, and unlike some features, is opt-in. This means that, by default, you will have to actively sign yourself up for this feature as it begins rolling out from today, and you won’t suddenly log in to find friends trying to track you down.

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In its press release, Facebook notes that Nearby Friends will “be available on Android and iPhone in the U.S. over the coming weeks.”

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