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Facebook's Fitness App Buy Is About Location, Location, Location

Building your online identity is a lot like real estate -- it's all about location.

If you’re like me, you woke up scratching your head this morning after seeing that Facebook had acquired the company behind Moves, a popular fitness app.

Does Facebook want to enter the fitness app market, especially as others seem so ready to do the same?

I doubt it. Here’s why.

Moves is a fitness app, yes. But using your iPhone’s accelerometer and other hardware, Moves’ core technology automatically recognizes your movements throughout the day, while logging your habitual routes and the places you usually visit. The company spits out a visualized map of your activity, which it calls a “daily storyline” of your life. And all of this is done passively, as the technology runs in the background on your smartphone while using minimal battery power.

This is exactly the type of data and technology Facebook loves. Facebook wants to be the be-all, end-all for your online identity — that’s why it asks you about where you’re going, where you’re from and the type of stuff you like to do. It’s all an effort to build a complete digital profile of exactly who you are.

Some say that this passive space hasn’t really been conquered yet.

“In the era of the quantified self, there is not a more powerful, yet less realized opportunity than passive location tracking,” wrote Pat Kinsel, a tech investor at Polaris Partners who previously sold his geolocation and discovery startup, Spindle, to Twitter. “Maintaining a constant record of your location presents innumerable opportunities.”

Startups like Highlight, Banjo and the well-known Foursquare are trying to play in this space — all with varying degrees of success.

But this tech in the hands of a giant company like Facebook — which now sees one billion of its 1.28 billion users visit the site via mobile devices — could log data on any of the things you do on a daily basis.

Here’s Kinsel’s prescient list of what passive geolocation could track, which he posted halfway through last year:

  • How often I eat out, on what nights, at what times, and at what types of places.
  • What activities I participate in.
  • How I commute.
  • How my life is divided between work, home, and other activities.
  • If I travel for work and if I travel for vacation. If so, where. And what do I do on those trips?
  • How often I shop and what stores I frequent.

What could Facebook do with all of that data?

The obvious answer is use it for better ad targeting. Facebook just rolled out an ambient location service called Nearby Friends, and eventually plans to use that location data for ad targeting purposes (though it isn’t being used for that right now).

Or perhaps it could be used much like Foursquare or Groupon’s mobile apps, serving up suggestions of places you should stop by or coupons you could use if you visit an establishment, all based on your location.

My guess? Perhaps Facebook wants to think more about the space Google is playing with via its Google Now product, a sort of smart personalized assistant that aims to serve up intelligent suggestions — like the best time to leave for your work commute, based on traffic. Or whether your home team won the big game played in your nearby baseball stadium. Like Google, Facebook knows a ton about you, and could use that information better if it knew more often where you are in the world.

To be sure, Facebook made clear it isn’t killing the Moves app, and pointed out that its data “won’t be commingled” with Facebook’s data. But as with the Nearby Friends data, Facebook is leaving the door open to use that geolocation information for other purposes in the future. And, of course, the buy gives the social giant all the engineering talent to work on this tech for Facebook as well as for the Moves app.

Bottom line: The Moves app is alive, well and in the best shape of its life. But this buy was more about Facebook keeping track of where you are, rather than how healthy you are.

This article originally appeared on

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