Life360 and the rise of tracking apps: Are we sacrificing privacy for safety?

Harrison Balfour '24, Photographer

Tracking apps have numerous advantages and countless disadvantages. Apps such as Life360 and Find My Device are used daily by millions of people to find each other. For students, they allow constant updates on their friends, family and classmate’s position throughout the day. For parents, they allow a sense of security and certainty when it comes to their children.

Life360 first hit the appstore in 2008, but did not reach booming popularity until the past few years when parents began downloading it on their children’s phones to locate them. It was first met with criticism, and questions as to whether the app is healthy for parent-child relationships arose.

In a Pew Research study among parents of teenagers 13-17, 16% of parents never used monitoring techniques to track their teen. When 84% of parents are monitoring their teens, some teens are going to feel attacked or misjudged, often turning to privacy and secrecy.

A study done by the American Psychological Association had parents controlling their children by monitoring them and their whereabouts. When boundaries are breached, such as through constant tracking, it can create rifts in parent-child relationships.

“Boundary management is complex and individuals experience competing goals that create a dialectical tension between expressiveness and privacy in interpersonal relationships,” the Psychological Association concluded.
“I think tracking apps should serve no big role in average, modern day life,” John Kipfmeuller ’24 said. Kipfmeuller believes that apps like Find Your iPhone and Life360 for tracking aren’t truly necessary for most parents. John’s parents are very involved, a more common term would be “Helicopter Parents”. In middle school, they tracked his every move through Find Your Iphone. “The most justifiable excuse for its existence is a parent tracking their middle school kid when they are out,” Kipfmeuller said.

Even though some disagree with how tracking apps are used, they can save lives when used correctly. A 16 year old girl named Myleea was saved using Life360. She was abducted and used the app to send her location to her parents. They found her and saved her from her captor using the app’s tracking feature.

Life360 can also be used in a less invasive way; a more friendly way. Many friend groups have Life360 groups to track each other. Omar Siddiqui ‘25 is a part of two groups, one with his friend group and another with his parents. They use Life360 to find a place to hangout or to determine when a friend will arrive somewhere.
“I think if used incorrectly it can have a negative effect on the trust formed between you and your parents,” Ethan Bell 23’ said. “People have survived many years without it and I believe it should continue that way.”Bell does not have Life360 and isn’t tracked by his parents through it. “The only way I could see someone wanting to use Life360 is if someone had a medical condition where they needed to be able to receive help quickly, or some instance like that.” Bell said.