As of 2023, nearly 70 percent Gen Z and 7 percent of Millennials use Apple Inc.’s “Find My” location-sharing app. The notion of others knowing where you are during the day may appear intrusive for some members of Gen Z.
“Find My iPhone” was initially released by Apple in 2010 as a paid subscription, while the Find My feature was added in 2019 to locate and play a sound on a missing Apple or Apple-related device, which now includes the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, Apple Watch, AirPods and Beats by Dre headphones and more.
The trend of friends sharing their real-time locations with each other is a recent phenomenon and aspect of contemporary society as friends often check each other’s locations spontaneously, according to Vox and Axios.
As reported by Vox, “mass location sharing was only introduced around 2017, when Google rolled out location sharing on its Maps function and Snapchat launched Snap Map, allowing users to see where their contacts were at any moment.”
When Apple Inc. combined the Find My iPhone and Find My Friends apps into “Find My” in 2019, the trend of location sharing developed into a form of social networking.
During these location checks, they bypass the need for lengthy conversations about someone’s whereabouts, activities or daily experiences. Apps like “Find My” and other location-sharing tools have eliminated the need for the once-common discussion about where someone is located.
Talya Craddock, a junior elementary education major at Howard University, from Orlando, Florida, believes location sharing has become its own form of social media.
“I share locations to find out where my friends are located when I need to see where they are at,”
Craddock said. “If we are meeting somewhere or if they are traveling home, I check to make sure they are close to their destination.”
The trend of location sharing is not a recent development and has been steadily on the rise. According to the Pew Research Center, 7 percent of U.S. adults shared their location with friends in 2013, while 25 percent of mobile users worldwide allowed app tracking after the iOS 14.5 update as of April 2022, based on reporting by Statista.
The iPhone 15 introduced an enhanced location accuracy feature, as its U2 chip technology enables communication with other Apple devices equipped with the same chip, outperforming the capabilities of the U1 chip in previous-generation iPhones, as reported by the Times of India.
Steven Jackson, an alumnus of Morgan State University and the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, currently works in the film and media production industries in Hollywood. Originally from the Bronx, NY, after a decade working in California, Jackson has a unique perspective on the benefits, challenges and potential generational divide of location sharing.
“I think there’s a subset of older people that are hesitant to use it because they feel people are tracking them and it’s new. Then there’s another group of older people that use it regularly to keep track of kids or other people in their family,” Jackson said.
“I know [several] millennials and Gen-Zers that share locations with all their friends just in case so they can know people’s whereabouts, and I don’t think it’s as black and white as ‘elders don’t use it, while younger folks do,’” he continued.
Jackson recalled how last summer, he helped a friend locate two phones that were misplaced and stolen by traveling pedestrians during a summer trip to Lisbon, Portugal.
“We were in different parts of Lisbon and had shared locations to meet at a historical site for professional photos. We forgot about it, but the location sharing has the option to share until the end of day, for 24 hours or indefinitely,” Jackson recalled.
“While my friends were retracing their steps, I tried to text the phone and noticed that it said we had ‘shared locations’. I realized that I could see where the phone was on the map of the city,” Jackson said.
Chase Austin, a junior psychology major from Atlanta, Georgia, expressed concerns about privacy regarding the new update, “I personally think the ‘precision finding’ feature on the new iPhone is a step too far.”
“Safety and accountability are one thing, but this is an invasion of privacy and an emerging ethical problem with advancing technology that could ultimately be used to collect discriminatory data,” Austin continued.
Jackson also echoed Austin’s sentiment regarding potential safety violations and discussed the need for regulations around location sharing and tracking.
“I think there is an issue of safety as people are being digitally stalked these days via geotagging. Even if you don’t share your location, people can find a way to track your location,” Jackson said.
“Even sharing a location on social media can get you caught up as many people have been harmed that way. I think that there needs to be regulations,” he continued.
Precision finding now has three times greater range, and Apple Inc. claims that the feature is built with the same privacy protections that users have come to trust in “Find My.” Regarding the new Apple update, Craddock expressed her appreciation for the latest feature.
“I think that this new feature is very helpful during the times that I need to find my friends. Especially if we are out in a crowd of people, being able to directly find them is great,” Craddock said.
Austin stressed the importance of using location sharing with care.
“For me, location sharing is just a common courtesy that can be used between friends and family who want to ensure each others’ safety. Location sharing doesn’t have to be harmful, but like everything else, it needs to be used cautiously,” Austin said.
All internet users have a digital footprint, which can be considered an archive or trial of their internet activity. Considering the increasing use of artificial intelligence and the technological revolution taking place around the world, Jackson mentioned that location sharing may become more popular and will not be limited to mobile phones.
“I think it’ll become more popular or normalized because many people don’t realize that they’re already sharing locations. With features like Apple Pay, some agencies and corporations know where consumers shop so location tracking is already taking place,” Jackson said.
“Personal use is where it kind of gets muddied, but professionally there are various uses for tracking and location sharing. Amazon delivery drivers, Uber drivers or even the criminal justice system, as this can change what house arrest looks like,” he continued.
With the release of the iPhone 15 and its improved location accuracy feature, the “Find My” app is positioned to continue enabling social interactions via location sharing for its users.
Copy edited by Alana Matthew