You’re Being Watched

Elyssa Huff, Writer

 What do Instagram, Snapchat and the weather app have in common? They all know exactly where you are. It seems as though location has become a widely-used tool in the age of technology, as reflected in the invention of Snap Map and Instagram’s Geolocation. None of these apps have quite the wide-range of gadgets and gizmos, however, of Life360, a tracking app primarily used by parents to know their children’s location. 

Life360 first came about on Android in 2008 and IOS in 2010 as a sort of social network for families. Its creators, Chris Hulls and Alex Haro, have received $90 million in funding since the app’s launch, including, famously, funding from both Facebook and Google. The app’s primary goal is to allow parents to keep tabs on their children, which, depending on one’s view, is either a safety precaution, or an overreach of surveillance. Perhaps it could be both. 

“Life360 is a mobile app where people can see others’ locations,” Ethan Ledbetter (12) said. “I just have the most basic version, so it just says where the phone is. If you have the subscription, though, it will tell you how fast people are going in their cars and, like, the history of where people have been.”

Because of the premium part of the app, it becomes apparent that Life360 is making a significant amount of money: in December 2019 alone, the app made over $2 million. Considering that the “Plus” package is $2.99 a month and the “Driver Protect” package is $7.99, this figure seems entirely feasible. But are people actually getting their money’s worth?

“My family and I actually ended up getting rid of the app,” Jewelia Brindel (11) said. “When I was riding the bus, it used to go past the entrance of my neighborhood, and the app would say that I was home already. It wasn’t always the most accurate app.”

With any sort of tracking app, there are almost always security concerns to go with it. People express their discomfort and having all of their information being on one app at any given time. 

“I wasn’t ever super comfortable with using it, because then my location’s out there on my phone, and there are so many different ways that someone could potentially have access to it,” Brindel said. “I don’t usually let anything other than my weather app have access to my location.”

Ostensibly, the app is intended for parental use, and parents frequently use it to ensure the safety of their children.

“My mom used it a lot, especially when my sister had a lot of extracurriculars and she would get rides from other people, and my mom would check just to make sure that she was safe and got where she was supposed to be okay,” Brindel said. 

The use of the app, however, can complicate relationships with parents, especially if the app’s use corresponds with a lack of trust or a desire to control a child’s whereabouts. According to the Washington Post, the extensive use of tracking apps can even be a form of emotional abuse, especially if it extends micromanaging that occurred in childhood. 

“I don’t think that parents are justified with tracking their kids,” Ledbetter said. “It’s an invasion of privacy, not a safety issue. I haven’t given my mom a reason to distrust me, so I kind of resent the fact that she doesn’t trust me so much that she resorts to using an app to track my location.”

However, the app can also be used outside of parental relationships. Some use it with their friends, as a way to see their location. 

“Right now, I have about eight people on my Life360. Tracking can be nice for friends because you know when they’re at a place you might want to go to, and it’s a good way to make quick plans,” Sophia Barton (11) said. “For sharing your location, it’s okay depending on who you’re sharing it with. Only share it with friends you trust and for the right reasons!” Barton said. “You never know what could happen.”

Some, however, are uncomfortable with the app and its uses, only using it when absolutely necessary or required by their parents. 

“I feel like there are a lot of factors that make it really creepy, especially with friends,” Madeleine Knecht (11) said. “If someone asked me for me location other than my mom or my dad, I would refuse because they don’t need it.” 

All in all, it appears that Life360 has a complex legacy among teens and young adults. Regardless of one’s feelings toward it, it represents a notable increase in tracking and location apps and technology. With any sort of tracking app, it is always important to stay safe and not overshare your location.