‘Marauders’ Map’ lets you stalk friends online

Facebook presents: Would the new app be as powerful as Harry Potter’s magic map?

Facebook has introduced a way to find exactly where in the world your friends are. While many see this as a useful tool, others fear it reflects a growing trend away from privacy.

When Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was published in 1999, it contained a map whereby Harry could track people’s movements all over the wizarding school Hogwarts. 16 years ago, this, like everything else in JK Rowling‘s world, was seen as impossible. But now Facebook have invented a digital equivalent. When you open your Messages tab you will be able to see the locations of all your friends to an incredible level of accuracy.

Location-based service has been around since the early 2000s. It has been part of Facebook for a number of years: if you are on your phone and your location settings are on, people can see exactly where you are. This can, of course, be switched off. Finding your exact location has also revolutionised mapping: with a couple of taps on your phone screen a pin will drop telling you where you are if you are lost.

The app, which was developed at Harvard University by Aran Khanna, is remarkable for its precision. Khanna noticed while trawling through old Facebook messages that the latitude and longitude coordinates of the message locations have more than five decimal places of precision, meaning that a sender’s location is accurate to within one metre. So it is possible to know which room of a house a message was sent from.

The app is meant to be light-hearted, but there are fears that it represents the decrease in privacy that social media brings. Facebook stores an enormous amount of data in its archives, and there are fears this could be accessed by people who aren’t exactly ‘friends’, such as stalkers.

There is also the issue of privacy from the authorities. The British government is aiming to introduce a law nicknamed the ‘Snoopers’ Charter‘, which would require UK internet service providers to keep huge amounts of data on their customers. Along with being able to find out everything we say online, the government may also be able to track our movements. Many see this as a worrying development.

The end of privacy?

‘What’s all the fuss about?’ say many Facebook users. Users can opt out of having their location showing, and in any case the benefits surely outweigh the negatives. You could be walking along the street and find out that, just a few metres away, is a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. Why would people want to stop that happening?

We must be careful how much information we put online, say sceptics. The internet is still new enough that it is relatively unregulated, and is therefore a home for some unsavoury people. And even though social media lets us disclose every part of our life, we should never forget the value of keeping some things private.

You Decide

  1. Do apps like this excite or worry you?
  2. Do you think Facebook has had a good, bad or neutral effect on the world?

Activities

  1. Imagine giving up the internet for a month. How different would your life be? What would be better, and what would be worse?
  2. Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the internet, has called for an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’. Think of three rights that you would include.

Some People Say...

“The internet is more powerful than any country or empire ever has been.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why does it matter if the government knows where I am?
Because we tend to think that, unless we are breaking the law, what we do and where we go is our own business. Some think that police officers tracking the internet is the first step on the slope that leads to a state where there is no private life. If they can see where you are at all times, how is that any different from having a spy following you around all day?
What’s the problem with Facebook if you have to add friends first?
There have been many criticisms of Facebook for not making its privacy policy clearer. And even if you are not friends with someone on Facebook, you can still see some of their profile. 81% of Facebook users admit to ‘stalking’ complete strangers.

Word Watch

JK Rowling
The author of the Harry Potter books was a single-mother living on benefits in Edinburgh when she started work on the books. Now she is the richest writer in the world and the Harry Potter brand is valued at £10 billion.
Facebook
Last year Facebook turned ten years old. It was invented by Mark Zuckerberg with his college roommates at Harvard University. As of March 2015 it had 1.44 billion users worldwide.
Harvard University
As well as Mark Zuckerberg and Aran Khanna, Harvard has many other famous alumni. These include UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Barack Obama and George W Bush, along with Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu and businessman Bill Gates, who dropped out.
Latitude and longitude
Latitude is how far north or south somewhere is; longitude is a measure of east and west. Both are measured in degrees.
Snoopers’ Charter
Officially known as the ‘Draft Communications Bill’ as it progresses through Parliament, the ‘charter’ is being pushed forward by the new Conservative majority government of the UK.

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