Facebook users who already feel a tad ambivalent about the social media behemoth’s extensive privacy issues might want to sit down for this squirm-inducing update on that front.

According to a would-be mole, one Aran Khanna, soon to be an intern at the tech megacorporation this summer, the Facebook Messenger application is the culprit in this latest exposé about Silicon Valley’s surveillance shenanigans (via Medium):

When I came to college Facebook Messenger became an integral part of my digital life. I quickly found that it was the easiest way to keep in touch with old high school friends, contact people I had just met, organize impromptu poker games with people I hardly knew, and everything in between. However, I didn’t realize how much data about me Messenger was revealing to the people I chatted with until last week when I began tinkering with my message history.

As you may know, when you send a message from the Messenger app there is an option to send your location with it. What I realized was that almost every other message in my chats had a location attached to it, so I decided to have some fun with this data. I wrote a Chrome extension for the Facebook Messenger page ( that scrapes all this location data and plots it on a map.

[…] Go ahead and see how many messages in your chats have locations attached. I’m guessing it’s a lot of them. And if this isn’t already starting to get a bit weird, the first thing I noticed when I started to write my code was that the latitude and longitude coordinates of the message locations have more than 5 decimal places of precision, making it possible to pinpoint the sender’s location to less than a meter.

Dismayingly, this location-based service on the part of the Messenger app is the product of a default setting, so untold numbers of users may not be aware that their whereabouts are automatically charted. What’s more, notes Khanna, the automatic setup enables people to monitor the movements of friends and acquaintances.

Gawker posted a follow-on to Khanna’s initial report Thursday:

Khanna updated his post to say that Facebook has notified him that “they are fixing this issue”— but that’s a fundamental, naive misunderstanding of how the site works. This wasn’t an “issue” that required a “fix” until someone pointed out how uncomfortable and sinister it is that a corporation had lured us into providing them with this level of personal information. Facebook Messenger didn’t just erupt, spontaneously, from some primordial code bog; it was designed some of the smartest and most deliberate engineers in the world. If it’s creepy, it’s creepy on purpose.

And that is how the quaint notion of privacy goes the way of the dodo, one instant message at a time.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson


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