Tech

How to share your location without broadcasting it to strangers

This story has been updated. It was originally published on May 16, 2017.

Coordinating locations with friends and family can be a real hassle. “I’m by a big tree,” “I’m standing on the corner,” and “My car broke down but there are no signs so just drive along I-95 for a while” simply aren’t helpful when there are multiple corners, dozens of trees, and 1,908 miles of Interstate 95. So take advantage of the variety of apps that let you share your location safely and privately—without broadcasting it to the world.

In addition to figuring out where to meet up, apps like these can let you track your kids without telling every stranger where they are. The ones we’ve collected are free to use, simple to set up, and can save you a long series of calls or texts when you need to know where, exactly, someone is.

Share your location on Google Maps

Google Maps lets you share your location from inside the app. David Nield

Google Maps has had a location-sharing feature for a few years now, and you can access it on your cell phone or through the website. The only requirement is that the people you share with must have Google accounts and be able to use Google Maps.

The best place to start is in the Google Maps app for Android or iOS. Find the blue dot that shows your current location, tap it, and then hit Share your location. This will open up options that let you choose who will see your location. You can also select how long this information will be available: anything from 15 minutes to 1 day, maybe even forever—or at least until you disable sharing again.

If you’re sharing your location for an indefinite time (“Until you turn this off”), you’ll need to pick people from your contacts list who can see where you are—or more accurately, where your phone is—at any time of the day. This is a pretty big reduction in privacy, so choose your approved friends wisely. If you’re only sharing your location for a set period of time, you can either choose specific people to share with or generate a link that anyone can use to get a lock on your position. Just bear in mind that the latter option can help any stranger with the right link find you.

People you’re sharing your location with will be able to see your location on Google Maps—both the website and the app—as long as they’re signed in with the right Google account. And if somebody has shared their location with you, you can reciprocate: Tap on their icon to choose whether or not they can see where you are too.

To remind yourself who can see you—and whom you can see—select Location sharing from the app or website menu. Here you can check who gets to see your location, and vice versa, and you can revoke or add access as you’d like.

Of course, for all of this to work, you’ll need to make sure your phone lets Google Maps track your current position. The option should be switched on by default, but you can check by going to Settings in the Google Maps menu, then tapping Personal content and working through the Location options. They will be labeled slightly differently on Android and iOS, but should be relatively straightforward to figure out.

Share your location on Apple’s Find My app

The location settings in Apple's Find My app.
Apple’s Find My app lets you share your location for a limited time or indefinitely. David Nield

Not to be outdone by Google, Apple has its own locator app, simply called Find My. Best known for locating lost devices, you can also use it to find people. It comes already installed on new iPhones and iPads, but if it’s not on your device for some reason, you can download it again.

As you might expect from Apple, no Android version of this app exists. So this option is strictly for iPhone users. In other words, if your wayward teen is using an Android smartphone, you can’t use Find My to keep tabs on their whereabouts. Find My is also available via your web browser through your iCloud account.

[Related: Make sure your lost devices can always be found]

From inside the iOS app, tap People to start sharing your location. Anyone you add must have an iPhone, or you’ll get an error message. Like with Google Maps, you’ll have the option to share your position for an hour, for the rest of the day, or indefinitely.

Back on the main screen, you can see the people you’re sharing your location with and for how long they’ll be able to find you. You can also tap on anyone on the list and ask to see their location too, although they’ll need to grant approval. To see where your contacts are, open the app, log into iCloud on the web, or use the Find My widget on macOS. For that last option, open Applications to find the widget.

On your iPhone, tap your avatar at the bottom of the Find My screen to turn your own location sharing on or off. The settings screen also shows your current location, and lets you select whether or not you’d like to receive certain location-related notifications.

One other feature to know about is geofencing. If you tap on someone who is sharing their location with you, the Find My app lets you sign up for alerts if the person leaves a particular area (like school) or goes into a particular area (like the bar where everyone’s supposed to be meeting). This feature requires their consent, even if you can already see where they are.

Share your location with Glympse

Glympse's pop-up of shared location
Glympses can be limited by time and are updated as you move. David Nield

If Google and Apple don’t cover all your needs, or you need to share with a friend who uses a different platform, you’ve got many location apps to choose from. One of the most comprehensive and competent is Glympse, which you can download for free on Android or iOS.

Glympse is great for quick, customized shares with people that might not all be using the same brand of phone or the same apps. You can get instant directions to anyone you’re tracking using your phone’s built-in mapping app, and it’s also handy for one-off events where everyone needs to meet up on time.

Here’s how it works: You can send location shares—called, appropriately enough, glympses—over email or text message. If the recipient is on a computer, or using a phone without Glympse installed, the glympse will show up in that person’s web browser instead, and only for the allotted amount of time. You don’t even need a Glympse account to share your location, though it helps to connect your social media accounts (so you can quickly share a glympse over a Twitter direct message, for example).

Like Google Maps and Find My, Glympse gives you a lot of options for controlling who you share your location with and for how long. It also offers some neat extra features, like private groups where everyone in the group can see where everyone else is—helpful for those family get-togethers where you’re all descending on the same restaurant.

You can see anyone sharing their location on the map, from your kids to your soccer team, and you can add them to a list of favorites for easy access. If you’re following a large group of people at once, use the lock symbol to keep the view fixed. Otherwise, the map will scroll as the contacts you’re tracking move around.

Another feature of note is the option to append public tags to your glympses. The tags work a bit like Twitter hashtags, letting the wider world know that you’re at a music festival or a sporting event. Anyone can view public tags, so you could set one up for your running club’s annual 10K, for example, to let everyone follow the race online. If you’d like to keep your location private, just avoid the public tags.

Share your location on instant messaging apps

Facebook Messenger's location sharing map
Locations in Facebook Messenger can be fixed or updated in real-time. David Nield

In addition to the apps we’ve already mentioned, many instant messaging apps come with location sharing options. They let you tell one contact or group of contacts where in the world you are. This option works best if you do most of your event arranging and social interactions via one of these apps. In that case, it makes sense to use it for location sharing as well.

Location sharing is built into Messages, the default messenger on Apple devices. In any conversation, tap the contact or group’s name, and select info. Then you have two options: Either select Send My Current Location for a one-off, static share, or hit Share My Location to use Apple Maps for real-time tracking. The recipients will receive a link to follow or they’ll see a pin on a map.

Naturally, Facebook Messenger has a similar feature: Tap the plus icon at the bottom of any conversation thread in the app for Android or iOS, then touch the location icon (an arrowhead pointing up and to the right). You can share live updates of your location for a set period of time, or send a one-off, fixed location.

[Related: Learn to use Facebook Messenger’s new encryption option]

The Facebook-owned WhatsApp (Android, iOS) has location sharing as well. Tap the attachment icon (looks like a paperclip) while you’re in a conversation, and Location will appear as one of the options. You can tap on a list of nearby places to tell your friends where you’ll be waiting for them. If you’re on the move, you can tap on Share live location to do just that—the app will give you the option to tell your friends your whereabouts for 15 minutes, one hour or eight hours, and add a description before you hit the send button. If you don’t want people to know where you are anymore, you can tap Stop sharing whenever you want, directly from the chat

We can’t cover every single messaging app here, but if you use something other than the ones we’ve mentioned, it might have a location-sharing option built in. Between native apps, third-party apps, and instant messaging add-ons, you’ve got plenty of ways to let people know where you are.


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