Have location tracking applications gotten out of hand?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| Published: October 13, 2011

The way we interact with people has really changed over the last several years, hasn’t it? I mean, it used to be about meeting face-to-face, or a simple phone call, or a page here and there. These used to be a means to have more personal meetings, but that’s changed. Now, our devices usually define our relationship with others, whether it’s the laptop, a social network, or our mobile phones. It’s all the same equation, but now the variables have changed and the results are drastically altered. Location-based services have taken a huge turn, maybe one of the biggest, and now it looks like it may be genuinely getting out of hand.

There are all sorts of ways to track your location, and I’m not talking about the carriers, manufacturers, or even developers. Sure, those are all real things, because these folks can do all of those things, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about user-to-user. The way that we interact with one another, and the way that tracking your location, or tracking someone else’s location, is a lot easier. So easy, in fact, that it’s just as simple as turning a feature on and seeing where your friends are.

It should be noted that these features, features that you can find in applications like Find My Friends, Places (what used to be Places, anyway), Foursquare, Gowalla and other location-aware, tracking, or focused apps, can be switched or changed to fit your needs. Don’t want to be tracked? Easy. But, why use the applications if you don’t actually plan on using them for their full features, right? Sure, checking into places on Foursquare or Gowalla, but not showing your location to everyone on your friend’s list is one thing, but wanting to use Find My Friends without having tracking on seems ultimately pointless.

But manufacturers and developers want you to think these apps and services are great, fantastic even. There’s no doubt that Foursquare is a popular application and people love to check in, and I can imagine that Find My Friends will be pretty popular when it takes off. So, these services exist, and are getting more popular and people are making new variations of them because people want them. People think location tracking is cool, in that you get to show people where you are, or even where you’re going in some other applications out there. But is there a point where we draw a line?

I mean, this stuff has to keep going forward, and these things have to keep evolving into something more. But, with Find My Friends for instance, where do we go from here that’s not literally invading someone’s privacy? If you decide to go through with it, and you choose to track yourself as well as your friends, then you’re basically giving them free reign to see where you are, whenever they want. This isn’t just something you turn on and off when you want. Activate it, and the people you choose to share your location with can find you whenever they want, which seems to me a bit strange.

Then again, these services can obviously be used for some good, too. If you’re lost or something, you could be found using the same services that some people out there find scary. And if you’re not someone who’s all that worried about people you approve of knowing where you are, then Find My Friends won’t be a big deal to you. In fact, you might even find it fun. But these things have a fine line.

And thankfully, that line seems to be mandated by the end user more than anyone else, and that’s the way it needs to stay.