Where Are You Now? Location Based Apps and Children

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Location based apps have changed the way people move throughout the world in the last few years. What started with the ability to use maps with your smartphone has now become a part of nearly every social network. People are literally mapping out every step of their life for all of their social connections to see, and while this technology is convenient for most, there are risks that many of us don’t even realize.

Parents especially have a unique set of risks when considering how they will allow their children to utilize location-based technologies. Criminals are increasingly using this technology to research crimes, and with more location information being shared each day, this will only continue. It’s not all bad though because family tracking apps can help parents feel more confident about the whereabouts of their children in a secure family-only environment.

For example, family tracking apps – like Family Locator by Life360 – allow parents to know where each member of their family is located in real time. Family members can message each other within the app and can even check in to let everyone else know they’ve arrived safely at their destination. This type of app is also handy if your phone is lost or stolen. All of this information is ONLY available to your family members within the app.

When choosing a family locator app, make sure that the location information will only be shared with your family. Avoid apps primarily designed to meet new people if you want to track your family because even if you set your app settings to private, some apps may still be sharing some of the data at some level.

Many social media apps allow users to check-in and/or share their location publicly like Facebook, Foursqare, Instagram, etc. Kids who use these apps and publicly share the information are leaving a digital trail for anyone that wants to know exactly where they are at any given time. Combine that with the fact that kids share photos of themselves and biographical information on their social networks, which can give criminals all the information they need to convince a younger kid that they know their family.

Here’s a simple example of how a criminal could convince your child that they are a safe person:

  1. The criminal identifies you or your child as a target.
  2. They find your child on social media.
  3. They see your child checks in every Tuesday and Thursday at 4:30 at the YMCA for basketball.
  4. They see that your child has a pet dog named Rudy and mother’s name is Janice.
  5. They tell your kid that Rudy was hit by a car and that Janice had to take him to the vet. She wanted them (the criminals) to drive the kid over to the vet.

Pretty convincing to an 8 year-old, right?

So what can you do to prevent this type of thing from happening to your family? Take some time to review your child’s privacy settings on their social networking apps. Make sure that they are not sharing their location (or profile) publicly. Discuss the risks with them and come up with a good policy for how and when they should check in.

Some parents may decide to completely disable their child’s GPS functionality to prevent this issue. I’d just like to remind you to keep in mind that you will not be able to completely disable GPS functionality on the child’s phone if you want to use a family tracking app. As with all new technologies, you have to weigh the costs and benefits of using each technology. Some parents may find more value in knowing where the kid is using the family tracker where others may find more risk in the kids checking in everywhere for the world to see.

This issue really boils down to discussing risk with your children and making sure you know which apps they’re using and how they work. You can implement a Family Apps Dinner once a month where everyone brings their phone to the table and shares the cool new apps they’re using. This way you can stay up to date, have quality time with the kids and may even find a new app that you’ll love! Younger kids will even find this dinner to be empowering because they are being tasked with showing the family the coolest new technology. Whatever you do, take some time to regularly get to know your kids digital world.

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