Privacy is a major concern, but location sharing could save your life.
Passive location sharing is one of the hallmarks of the digital era. Now we carry around pocket computers, it’s become easy to share our whereabouts with our networks, or even companies who want our data, delete—sometimes without even knowing we’re doing it.
Some might argue this has become too easy. There are a number of privacy advocates who feel the default location-sharing settings on many apps like Facebook or Twitter is a huge invasion of privacy. Many users don’t even realize they are opting in. Sharing one’s location is one thing, if the app requires knowing your geographical whereabouts—such as Uber or a delivery app—but the wide practice of location sharing on social media posts has attracted attention recently, and not in a good way. With fears about authorities monitoring people’s activities based on their online posting, activists have been encouraging users to disable the setting where necessary to protect their privacy.
That said, there is one area where opt-in location sharing is a hugely beneficial use of technology and that is in cases of emergency. We’ve seen a rise of location sharing features and purpose-built apps that allow anyone with a smartphone to opt in to sharing their location with loved ones, close friends, or any intended audience. These services seem to understand the need for these features to be “opt-in,” whereby a user is consciously making a decision to share with people their whereabouts and the status of their safety. This avoids situations where someone in a sensitive situation unwittingly shares their location.
Here is a run-down of some of apps and features where this innovative and useful technology is being deployed. Based on this list, there’s every indication that that location-based mobile technology will grow to respond to disaster scenarios in the coming years.
The latest innovation in this space comes from Google, which has launched the Trusted Contacts app for Android phones. The app prompts friends and family to ping your phone with a request for location share if they think you are in danger. The key feature is that you decide who in your phone has this ability and it also gives you the option to decline to share should you choose.” However, “if you don’t decline the request within five minutes, the app will automatically share your location. If you’re offline, it’ll share your last known location before your connection dropped,” as TechCrunch explained. It also allows you to actively share your location should you find yourself in danger.
Facebook’s “Marked Safe” Feature
Perhaps the most widely-known example of location sharing in emergencies is Facebook’s “Marked Safe” feature, which allows users who have been near a widely known-about disaster, emergency, or terrorist attack to immediately share with their network they are safe. The pros of this is that it’s an instant and easy way to communicate with a large network that you’re okay; the downside is that you can’t decide who you want to know and who you don’t, so you have to be willing to make the information entirely public.
Beacon is a GPS tracking app that is favored by those who do adventure sports or solo excursions, as it allows you to send a ping that shares your location with selected contacts and emergency services. Each user has a unique ID and pin, which friends can use to view your location. The company pings your location every 15 seconds, and is a popular with users as it doesn’t cause a huge battery drain.
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