Facebook is developing a smartphone app that will track the location of users, two people with knowledge on the matter say, bolstering efforts to benefit from growing use of social media on mobile devices.
The app, scheduled for release by mid-March, is designed to help users find nearby friends and would run even when the program is not open on a handset, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren't public.
Apple and Google have similar tools for continuously keeping tabs on user whereabouts.
Facebook is adding features to help it profit from the surging portion of its more than 1 billion users who access the service via handheld devices.
The tracking app could help Facebook sell ads based on users' whereabouts and daily habits.
It may also raise the hackles of consumers and privacy advocates concerned about the company's handling of personal information.
Regulators in the US and Europe have already scrutinised Menlo Park, California-based Facebook amid concerns that it does not do enough to keep data private. Apple and Google have similar tools for continuously keeping tabs on user whereabouts.
Facebook spokesman Derick Mains declined to comment.
The team developing Facebook's location software is being led by Peter Deng, a product director who joined from Google in 2007, one person said.
The group also includes engineers from Glancee, a location-tracking start-up Facebook acquired in May, and Gowalla, a location-based social network whose assets were purchased in December 2011, the person said.
Company chief executive Mark Zuckerberg emphasised the need for new mobile products in a January 30 call with analysts.
"A lot of what we had to do last year was simply to improve our mobile development process," Zuckerberg said.
"The next thing we're going to do is get really good at building new mobile-first experiences."
Facebook already records the GPS coordinates of users when they post status updates or photos from their phones, or check in to a venue.
With the new app, the company would go a step further by tracking user whereabouts in the "background" of Apple's mobile operating system, even when other programs are running or the phone isn't in use, one person said.
While Facebook would probably need to ask permission from users to track their location to be in accordance with Apple's guidelines for developers, Facebook may have already gotten consent from its users to run such a feature.
Facebook's data-use policy tells users the company may use information on location "to tell you and your friends about people or events nearby, or offer deals to you that you might be interested in."
The company said it may also put together data "to serve you ads that might be more relevant."
"When we get your GPS location, we put it together with other location information we have about you (like your current city)," the data use policy reads.
"But we only keep it until it is no longer useful to provide you services, like keeping your last GPS co-ordinates to send you relevant notifications."
A host of apps, including Apple's Find My Friends and Math Camp's Highlight, constantly track user locations to help them find friends or places of interest.
Many of the programs have failed to gain wide audiences because of privacy concerns and the heavy toll such apps have on the battery life of mobile phones.
Would you use the new location-tracking Facebook app to find nearby friends? Have your say in the comments.
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