Location apps toe the line between stalking and security

“Where are you?”

This simple question has become too much for even a text or phone call in our current generation. With the Find My Friends or Life 360 tracking phone applications, friends, family and acquaintances may follow your every step. You move as a pulsing dot sliding across a map. Life 360 even offers certain benefits with an upgrade to premium membership, such as a 24/7 life advisor. Upon upgrading to a paid premium membership, Life 360 offers services such as access to emergency responders, “personalized crisis care,” directions to the closest restaurants or gas stations, emergency roadside assistance, and stolen-phone insurance up to $100.

This all begins with the acceptance or initiation of a follow request on Find My Friends, or joining a circle on Life 360.

By accepting follow requests or joining a circle, users willingly subject themselves to 24/7 locational tracking. To the concerned parent, these apps help prevent occasional panic attacks when their fun-loving teenager fails to respond to frantic texts past curfew. Life 360 also caters specifically to families who want to “stay connected to those who matter most,” according to its website. Family email invitations come with the message, “Join me on Life 360, because I love you.” Such messages guilt trip family members into these tracking services.

Dana Kresojevich, mother of two children, finds the apps very helpful for staying connected if staying in direct contact is not possible.

Find My Friends and Life 360 show your exact location. Find My Friends and Life 360 show your exact location.

“It is a useful tool to ease a mother's worries and concerns regarding their child's whereabouts without being overbearing,’” she says. Although a text or phone call could accomplish the same goal, Kresojevich simply finds the location apps most convenient for both her and her children.

From another perspective, friends might follow each other as a way to know who is around to hang out. Business freshman Michael Kresojevich remembers Find My Friends being useful when he had friends who bounced between households of divorced parents. Kresojevich always knew when his friend was either available or away.

Nevertheless, parents seem to benefit most from the peace of mind gained from knowing where their child is in the late hours of the night. Kresojevich says that in addition to keeping his friends close in high school, Find My Friends helps to keep his family close while he is off at college. “Now in college,” Kresojevich says, “my parents can check in on my locations so I don’t have to check in with them all the time.” Kresojevich’s family now stays connected without the hassle of texts or phone calls.

In addition to families and friends, fraternities and sororities are taking advantage of the app. Business freshman and Alpha Kappa Psi member Matthew Mechelay describes the allure to Life 360. “It helps me stay connected,” he explains.

Business freshman Maddie Hiemstra clarifies that the app keeps the pledges “connected with friends on such a large campus.”

However, not everyone finds the app useful or inviting. “I don’t want everyone to know where I am all the time,” business freshman and Alpha Kappa Psi member Stephen Baldridge says.

Although the app comes with several useful features, not everyone uses these tools responsibly. “Everyone kept hitting the panic button,” Baldridge says. “The point is to make sure everyone is safe but people just panic dial for jokes.” By devaluing the safety features on the app, Baldridge argues that the app just “becomes a game.” On another note, Baldridge also points out that all this constant tracking and data usage tends to bog down the user’s phone and quickly consume the phone battery.

Despite the stalking vibe of these apps, they do allow for limited boundaries. On Find My Friends, users may hide their location at any time. However, this sort of defiance may anger the overprotective parent. Both Find My Friends and Life 360 allow the user to block specific individuals from following them, if necessary. Anyone considering downloading either app must simply decide if 24/7 tracking is really a tool they want to enable. While the consistent tracking does appear admittedly excessive, certain aspects of the apps are practical and serve as helpful resources under the right circumstances.

Ultimately the individual decides whether they care if friends or family know where they are at all times. Whether the apps are used for safety, convenience, or communication, the tracking remains generally harmless.

Reach the writer at ashley.durham@asu.edu or on Twitter @txashleyaz.

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