John D. Sutter, CNN, Reporting
Following a period of freak-out on the Internet on Monday, Facebook appears to have pulled a controversial feature that let the social network’s users get a digital list of other Facebookers nearby.
The “Find Friends Nearby” feature was not accessible in a CNN test on Tuesday morning, and other media outlets, including CNET, reported that Facebook had pulled the service.
In a statement e-mailed to CNN, a Facebook spokeswoman declined to elaborate.
“This wasn’t a formal release — this was something that a few engineers were testing,” the spokeswoman wrote. “With all tests, some get released as full products, others don’t. Nothing more to say on this for now — we’ll communicate to everyone when there is something to say.”
When Facebook users logged on to the Find Friends Nearby site, they were supposed to be able to see friends and other Facebook users who were in close proximity.
Facebook users did not show up on those location-aware lists unless they intentionally logged into that site, which was accessible on Monday at http://fb.com/ffn.
The site came to the public’s attention on Sunday after news of the feature was leaked to the tech press, according to news reports.
A Facebook engineer who claimed to have designed the feature said in a message to the blog TechCrunch that it could be used to quickly look up and “friend” someone who you’d met in person.
“For me, the ideal use case for this product is the one where when you’re out with a group of people whom you’ve recently met and want to stay in contact with,” that developer, Ryan Patterson, wrote. “Facebook search might be effective, or sharing your vanity addresses or business cards, but this tool provides a really easy way to exchange contact information with multiple people with minimal friction.”
Patterson wrote that he developed the app as part of a coding competition, or hackathon.
“Social discovery” apps like Highlight and Glancee, which Facebook recently purchased, already perform similar functions and have not been hit with the same backlash Facebook received.
Facebook says it was “testing” the feature and that it had not become a formal part of the site, despite the fact that it was available online on Monday.
The company had not promoted the feature.
“We are constantly testing new features but have nothing more to share at this time,” a company spokeswoman told CNN in an e-mail on Monday.
The blog ReadWriteWeb dubbed the feature a “stalking app,” and news of Find Friends Nearby received a cold reception on the Internet, where Twitter users and bloggers panned the idea — saying Twitter-y things like “Hell to the naw,” “Oh lawd!” and “BAD FACEBOOK!!”
Furthermore, a company called Friendthem claimed Monday that Facebook had stolen its concept and was threatening the much-larger social network with a lawsuit.
“I was amazed on Sunday to read that Facebook is blatantly stealing our idea with what they are calling, ‘Find Friends Nearby,’” Friendthem CEO Charles Sankowich said in a statement posted on VentureBeat and on other tech news sites.
What do you think of the idea of knowing which Facebook users are nearby? Could this be useful for finding new friends and looking up new contacts? Or does it cross a line in terms of privacy?