To share or not to share: location sharing apps and services


Technology has made it easier to keep track of friends and family through location-sharing apps, comforting parents worried about their children or making sure your elderly relative gets to their doctor’s appointment. But there’s a dark side to location sharing because bad actors have found nefarious ways to abuse the technology and tech companies collect that data, combine it, and sell or monetize it.
Location sharing uses sensors on mobile devices to pinpoint their location and report it to the interested party. This is usually done through a combination of GPS, cellular radios, and Bluetooth radios. Often the subject accuracy can be reduced to a few meters. The area a device is in, as well as the state of the device, will determine the accuracy of the technology.
Location sharing can be permanent in the sense that it is always on, or it can be an option enabled for a specific time period or event. For example, going to an amusement park? You might want to start sharing your location with your friends or kids for the rest of the day, so if you get separated you can find your way back to each other.
The benefits of being able to see where your loved ones are are obvious. However, it is also important to understand the potential trade-off. There are several ways to use location sharing. These include offers already on your phone such as Find My or Google Maps or third-party options such as the popular Life360. The most important proprietary offers include:
As with any technology designed for good, there are crooks ready to take advantage of it. Location sharing technology can be used by stalkers and in abusive situations.
When using location sharing, keep the following safety tips in mind:
Never allow location sharing with someone you don’t know.
Discuss position sharing with your kids and make sure they understand how it works, so they don’t share their position with bad actors.
iPhones have a built-in service that will notify you if an unknown AirTag (tracking device) is traveling with you, Apple also offers an app on Android that lets you scan your area for any AirTag devices that might be surreptitiously tracking you.
Additionally, consider the following when deciding whether to use location sharing:
It’s generally safer to trust larger, more well-known companies.
Read the fine print: Most companies like Life360 post their privacy policy on their website.
Position sharing is a two-way street, at least as far as adults are concerned. Both parties must consent to location sharing before using it.
Consider all options when you turn on Location Sharing and make sure it’s set up in a way that works for you and gives you the features you want.
Be aware of how some location sharing products work. Most apps offer the ability to share your current location, but they also track your movements in real time. Choose what suits you best.
Think carefully before enabling geolocation in your tweets, blogs or social media accounts.
Apply location features selectively. Only consider allowing geotagging on photos when you specifically need to tag them with your location. Note that it is safer not to geotag the photos of your children or your house.
Location Sharing is a great example of a technology that wasn’t readily available a few years ago, but now offers peace of mind. Used appropriately, it offers excellent options for protecting your family and friends.
As district attorney, I am committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the district attorney’s office and the public. I hope these safety tips for consumers and the public have been useful to you.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the editors and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

Lance B. Holton