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When you should share your location via phone

While meeting friends, update them with your location

Brian X Chen | NYT  |  San Francisco 

Smartphone, Location, GPS

Last week after my motorcycle malfunctioned and crashed on the freeway, I wanted only two simple things from technology: To call 911 and to tell loved ones where I could be found.

Coincidentally, I had been testing location-sharing tools from Apple, Google, and So before calling the police, I texted my partner, who was already tracking my location with several apps, letting her know I was hurt. When she opened Maps, she could see precisely where I was on the 101 South freeway.

But when she refreshed the map to follow the ambulance, she ran into the app’s shortcomings: showed I was at Costco (not where I wanted to be, injured or not) when I was actually strapped onto a stretcher heading toward San Francisco General Hospital.

Such is the state of location sharing on smartphones.

Yet security experts agree that on smartphones, it is now practically impossible to stop location tracking. There is a multitude of ways for third parties to find out where we are, including cell towers, the metadata transmitted from telecommunications, and data logged on our phones.

Here are some tips for the best-and worst-use cases for sharing your location using a range of old and brand-new location-sharing tools.

and offer location-sharing tools to drop a pin on a map to share your current location, or to let others follow your location in real time as you move around. recently added real-time location tracking in Maps. And last month released an interactive map letting people share their location with friends indefinitely.

The best times to use location tracking:

  • When you make plans to meet friends somewhere like a movie theater, get in the habit of sharing your location for a short duration, like an hour.
  • Consider using Apple’s Find My Friends, Messenger or Maps to share your location occasionally with your romantic partner. Location sharing can be useful for being considerate of your partner’s time and space.
  • Parents who have caved in to buying a smartphone for their child at a young age might consider using Find My Friends to track their child’s location for safety purposes.
  • Next time you plan an event at a large outdoor space, like a picnic in a park, do your friends a favour: Use Maps or Messenger to drop a pin on a map with your current location so they can find you.
And when not to use it

  • Don’t share your location when meeting in an indoor space like a specific store in a mall.
  • Likewise, don’t bother sharing your location on a nature hike. In remote areas, with no cell connection, turning on location would waste battery life.
  • Parents should make sure children are not sharing their locations with strangers or bullies. With iPhones, you can create restrictions that prohibit your child from changing settings or adding followers. 
  • For safety reasons, avoid sharing your location publicly. 
  • The bottom line: Know your limits. “Use common sense,” Grossman said. “If you’re trying to hide from people, don’t publish your whereabouts.”
Some guidelines


  • While meeting friends, update them with your location
  • At a large outdoor space, drop a pin on a map  
  • Track your child's location for safety purposes


  • When meeting in an indoor space like a specific store in a mall
  • In remote areas, turning on location would waste battery life
  • For safety reasons, avoid sharing your location publicly

© 2017 The New York Times News Service