Facebook is giving users an easy way to inform loved ones they're safe in the midst of a major disaster. How its new Safety Check feature works: If you're in an affected area—this is determined using the city listed in your profile, a location last recorded by the Nearby Friends feature if applicable, and where you're using the Internet—the tool sends you a notification asking if you're safe, according to Facebook's blog. When the "I'm Safe" button is clicked, an update is automatically posted to your News Feed, along with any comments you provide, Engadget reports. You can also mark friends as safe, browse through all check-ins, or inform Facebook that you're not actually in the affected area. Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the feature in Japan, which was just hit by two typhoons in a week.
"A truly useful tool, or just a cagey way to try to take some of the creepiness out of the apps' location tracking features?" asks Richard Lawler for Engadget. "We're figuring the latter impression doesn't hurt from Facebook's perspective." Safety Check was born out of a Japanese effort. Facebook engineers there created the Disaster Message Board after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc on the country. A test of that tool spawned an "overwhelming" response that inspired this latest feature, which will be available worldwide on Android, iOS, and desktops. But Safety Check may step on the toes of another Internet giant, PC World points out. Google has launched "Person Finder" sites to track survivors of numerous disasters, including flash floods in India and the 2010 earthquake in Chile. (Read about how a California woman was saved thanks to her iPhone.)