Facebook added a feature to its Messenger app on Monday to allow users to share their locations continuously for up to an hour, ramping up competition with tools offered by Apple and Alphabet Inc's Google Maps.

The company has found that one of the most used phrases on Messenger as people talk to friends and family is "How far away are you?" or some variation, Stan Chudnovsky, head of product for Messenger, said in an interview.

"It happens to be what people are saying, what they're interested in the most," he said.

Sharing location information is optional, but it can also be live, so that once a user shares the information with a friend, the friend can watch the user's movement for up to 60 minutes.

Many of us make plans on Messenger that involve finding each other, or letting friends and loved ones know we’re on the way. Sharing your location will also help some of you feel safer on the way home,” wrote David Marcus, Facebook’s head of messaging products.

Facebook has been testing its change in Mexico, Chudnovsky said. It was ready as long ago as October, he added, but the company worked on it for five more months to minimize the impact on the battery life of phones.

Facebook sees the feature being used for convenience to coordinate with friends, for safety-related purposes or for other uses, Chudnovsky said. "There are all sorts of products that you can imagine you could build on top of that," he said.

The update is being made available globally and is available on both iOS and Android.