Type to search

GPS-enabled Wearables and Apps Offer Safety Net at Privacy’s Expense

Apps Mobile Mobile Lifestyle Trends

GPS-enabled Wearables and Apps Offer Safety Net at Privacy’s Expense

Jaimy Szymanski July 9, 2015

Just because you can track someone, should you?

GPS is the feature-du-jour of many connected devices, mobile applications, and other wearables hitting the App Store and Google Play markets. Many of these newcomers target parents and families looking to protect their children and loved ones, as it’s easier than ever to keep tabs on others’ safety using our everyday devices.

Want to know where the kids are on their commute from school? Transport with Uber-like Shuddle, or track them with a Circo once it hits the shelves.
Chance, Sassy, and Shadow run away? Hopefully, they have collar Taggs.
Has Grandma wandered off? Find out quickly with GPS SmartSoles.

Tagg Pet

Tagg app and collar wearable lets users track pets with ease.

The ability to track each other (and, ourselves) for safety’s sake certainly isn’t something new. To be honest, I’ve longed for a Lifeline device since the wise age of 10. It is, however, much simpler to access and understand GPS technology and its data output when our smartphones and tablets are already enabled with these capabilities. There’s no need to hire a private investigator or spend hundreds on a bluetooth tracking chip when checking in on a family member’s location is as easy as opening an app. This seamlessness and ease of use may offer convenience and peace of mind, but at what cost to privacy?

Functionality and app controls are key to ensuring that privacy is maintained while safety concerns are also mitigated. Take Glympse, for example. Launched back in 2009, Glympse allows its users to share their location with pre-set groups of connections for a specific period of time. After the time limit expires, users can no longer see that contact’s location. Recently, Glympse has added many features that allow for even easier location-sharing, including integration with smart navigation systems in vehicles and seamless connection to messaging apps and social networks.


Life360’s check-in and GPS tracking features.

Or, let’s examine Life360. For 50 million families, Life360 helps avoid the inane “where are you?” texts that spring up six to eight times per day, during normally hectic weeks. Each family member, as part of a private circle, can turn their GPS on/off within the app so that others can see their location with ease. Users can also set up familiar locations to automatically “check in” once they’ve arrived at home, work, or school. Life360 can also be used for emergency preparedness, as we’ve previously covered on MobileFOMO.

We all can think back to our childhoods when moments of private solace were accessible and (remotely) within our control. Running to the corner store after school, biking to a friend’s house, and even sneaking out at night were at least rituals, if not the norm. Although the world has evolved and crime can sometimes be a tangible threat today, the expectation and right to privacy remains. Apps like Glympse and Life360, when used knowingly and transparently by family members and friends, allow for both individual freedom and familial peace of mind.

Keeping loved ones safe with the assistance of these apps is indeed an alluring benefit. In fact, App Annie data indicates that “safety” is among the top App Store search terms that lead iPhone users to Life360. However, users must maintain caution when considering the ethical implications of data collection. Just because it’s desirable and useful, doesn’t mean it’s necessary, and it may indeed violate another’s right to privacy. As it becomes easier to automate, track, and analyze the data we give and receive, a human element of caution must remain.

Disclosure: MobileFOMO’s editor-in-chief, Anne Ward, is personally and professionally connected to Life360.

Jaimy Szymanski

Jaimy Szymanski is a mobile and customer experience analyst, focusing on how organizations adapt core digital strategies to serve the new “connected customer.” She has developed multiple research artifacts on the topics of digital transformation, consumer mobile, customer experience design, and social business strategy. Jaimy also has nearly 10 years experience advising companies of all sizes, in varied industries, that are affected by emerging technologies.

  • 1