Despite the frivolous nature of most social media interactions, Facebook's latest new feature is intended for use only in serious situations. Unveiled today in Japan, Safety Check notifications are pushed to users when a natural disaster hits and area you have listed as your location, where you've checked in on Nearby Friends, or where you recently logged in from. Tech companies like Google and Facebook have worked to connect people after significant disasters in the past, and Facebook says the project is an extension of the Disaster Message Board its Japanese engineers rolled out after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami there. Safety Check is rolling out globally on Android, iOS, feature phones and the desktop -- there's a demo video (embedded after the break) to explain how it all works.
A simple I'm safe / I'm not in the area set of buttons can push an update (and comments, if you enter them) that's visible only to people on your friends list, intended to quickly give some peace of mind when they notice a USGS report for your zipcode -- or worse. If you simply have friends who are in the area of a natural disaster, there's a notification when they check-in as safe that can take you to a list of their updates.
A truly useful tool, or just a cagey way to try to take some of the creepiness out of the apps' location tracking features? We're figuring the latter impression doesn't hurt from Facebook's perspective, but in this connected age it's also a reflection of how people really use the net in trying times. Additionally, it can take some pressure off of overloaded infrastructure with everyone trying to call affected areas after disasters hit, and of course, save you from a post-tragedy chewing out for failure to let people know you're fine. C'mon, just call your parents / friends / casual acquaintances once in a while, it's not that hard.