Location Apps: Who’s Tracking Your Kids?

 

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Photo: Find My Friends App

Last week we talked about the dangers that can arise with apps that allow anonymous users to interact. Equally concerning is the growing popularity of location tracking apps among teens. Designed to help moms keep track of kids, these apps serve a great purpose. However, they can be misused by teens looking for nearby friends if privacy settings aren’t locked down.

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Find My Friends
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Connect

These apps differ from social networks—such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook—which also have geo-location features built into them that take a few extra clicks to get to. Location tracking apps are designed specifically to locate users with precision—down to their street address, avatar, and time stamps. Which frankly, is pretty frightening if an app is being misused (see photo, above).

Glympse
Glympse

Such apps include: Find My Friends, Glympse, In the Room, Connect, Nearify, My Location, Location Tracker, Locate My Friends, Who’s Here, and the list goes on. Several of those icons are to the right.

What are the dangers of such apps? There’s the obvious danger of personal information instantly becoming public. And, when it comes to minors using these apps, it is a potential safety issue.

Perhaps the bigger danger is this: Many teens (digital natives) see nothing inherently wrong with sharing their location at anytime, with anyone. Sharing is in their cultural DNA.

That’s where parents need to step in and curb their urge to share things such as personal info, location, and other details that could put them at risk.

Discussion points for families:

• Examine how an app is being used. If your teen is using a location app, ask them to show you how they’re using it and the friends with whom they interact. Make sure that your teen is only communicating with people they know.

• Share location with friends only. Location apps for minors are unnecessary outside the context of family. Let your kids know if they’d like to share their location with a friend, they can call or send a text. And here’s an idea: If they want to know who is nearby, they may want to look up from their screens and scan the room—an app is not needed for that.

• Location sharing puts a whole family at risk. When location services are turned on within a social network, embedded in photos, or shared through a location app, it becomes easier for criminals to track behaviors. Using these apps can open up your family to theft or personal harm.

• Location apps are just creepy. Location apps can encourage cyberbullying, stalking, and predatory behavior. Some of these apps are populated by people with ill intentions who are looking to engage in sexual conversation with anyone of any age. Teens don’t realize this when they download these apps and innocently set out to find friends nearby and connect for purely social reasons. Kids can also be duped by people who look like peers but are not.

• Just say NO to giving away personal info. Many of these apps require first and last names, age, and zip code at registration or that a user log in using a Facebook account. Most apps simultaneously ask permission to use location services on a user’s device. This has become the norm but advise your kids to just say NO to that click. This is far too much personal information for a minor to be giving out.

• Review privacy settings on all social networks. Remind them that location information shared through social networks can make everyday photos more visible to people and communities beyond their accepted friend list. Be sure your kids set social networks to private and that location settings are switched to “off.”

With all the features being built into apps today, chances are many of the apps on your child’s phone have some form of location approval enabled. To disable location services on apps, go into your child’s general settings icon and find Settings > Privacy > Location Services. For an iPhone, click here for more detailed instructions and for an Android, click here.

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Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).

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