Good Digital Parenting
Blog | July 18, 2018

What Parents Should Know About Popular Location-Sharing Apps

Intern, Family Online Safety Institute

While there are many apps that have location-sharing features, three apps, Find My Friends, Snapchat, and Mappen, stand out as frontrunners in this field. Understanding how they work and how they differ allows parents to make informed decisions when navigating their child’s location-sharing.

Find My Friends

This Apple-made and iOS exclusive app is perhaps the most useful for parents in terms of keeping track of your kids--should the family use iPhones. The app allows users to link their phones to the app through their Apple account. Further, the app requires that users pick-and-choose who has access to their location, rather than broadcasting the phone’s location to all of its contacts. Making it especially compatible for parents is that it does not require any additional accounts; users merely need an Apple account in order for someone to share their location with them. You can view a friend’s location in the Find My Friends app where all friends’ locations are displayed on a world map. You can also view friends’ locations in the “Messages” platform. Click on the information button in the top right corner of your texting conversation with your friend, and the phone will display their location along with the contact information.

The app does not have to be open for the phone’s location to update; as long as the phone is on and has service, the app provides the exact, live-updated location of the phone. As a result, the app can be a valuable tool in staying up-to-date on your child’s location. It is also easy to stop sharing your location; just flip the “Share My Location” switch to off, and the app will no longer provide location information with anyone.

Snapchat

The popular social media app Snapchat has a feature called, “Snap Maps” that allows users to share their location with friends as well as see the locations of their friends on a world map. If you choose to have your location-sharing on, the default setting permits all your Snapchat contacts can see your location. However, you can change the settings to permit only select contacts to have access to your location. Simply click on “Select Friends” and the app then lets you select specific users that you would like to have access to the phone’s location. The app also lets you turn on “ghost mode” so no one can see your location. All participating users must have Snapchat accounts in order to see or share locations through the Snapchat platform. Unlike Find My Friends, the location only updates when the Snapchat app is open on the phone. In short, while Snap Maps can be used in a safe way, for parents, Find My Friends may be a more practical choice in staying up-to-date on your child’s whereabouts due to the easy connectivity with the iPhone interface and its requirement of adding friends one-by-one.

Mappen

A newer app available on iOS and Android for location sharing is Mappen, short for “Make Something Happen,” released in 2017 by the app makers Juxta Labs Inc. The app’s mantra is, “A Map for Your Social Life.” The app’s creators shared on the website that the app attempts to solve the problems of loneliness and isolation: “The antidote to loneliness is to build real world meaningful relationships. Mappen is designed to give you more opportunities to do just that. Technology to improve life, not distract from it.”

Similar to Snapchat, users must have an account on the app to exchange location information on the platform. Once on the app, users have to add or accept invitations from friends in order to exchange location information with others. You can choose to “go invisible,” blocking anyone from seeing your location, but this only remains active for a brief period of time before the app reactivates location-sharing. Users must select the location-sharing setting for Mappen through the settings control on their phone. However the app encourages users to let the app always have location access, meaning the app can update the phone’s location even when the app is not in use. In fact, the app will not let the user update their status unless they have the “always” setting turned on.

Unlike Find my Friends or Snapchat, the platform is formatted to facilitate making plans with those around you rather than merely broadcasting your location. Therefore, it has some distinct features that look different from the more basic location-sharing capabilities of the other two apps. Under the “WYD?” tab (an abbreviation for What are you doing?), there are a number of options to update your status that can indicate to friends what you are up to and if you want to make plans. The “HMU” option notifies other users that you want them to text, call or Facetime you. The “Bored” feature announces to friends that you want to make plans. There is also an “I’m Okay” selection that allows the user to notify friends that they are safe. There are additional options to display what you are doing, from watching Netflix to eating to feeling sick. On the top right corner of the app interface, there is a calendar icon. This brings you to a page that allows you to initiate plans with friends, with preset options such as “Grab Some Food” and “Chill.” On the other end, the app also notifies users when nearby friends want to create last-minute plans. The “Places” portion of the app allows you to add favorite places to show up on your map, as well as keep track of your most visited places. Mappen creators claim that the app has no significant impact on battery life, according to their website. Children under 13 should not use according to Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

In short, there are ways to use all three apps in a safe and responsible way. Depending on a user’s purpose, the different apps can prove useful. Find My Friends allows parents, friends and children to track locations in a controlled and easy-to-maneuver way; Snapchat permits users to broadcast their location to as many or few friends as desired; and Mappen engages friends and encourages interaction in a unique manner. Therefore, deciding what purpose you and your child want an app to serve is an important step when choosing a location-sharing platform.