Are Location Apps Safe for Teens?

Common Sense Media parenting expert Caroline Knorr answers questions about parenting, media, and everything in between.

As with most new technology features, there are positives and negatives. On the one hand, apps such as Find My Friends and Gone Out – Later Folks can help friends find each other at a concert or other large gathering. Parents also can use them to keep track of a teen’s location. And many of these apps have safety features that restrict who can see a user’s location.

On the other hand, because they broadcast your teen’s physical location on a map, they open up the possibility of meeting strangers face to face or enabling someone to follow your teen without their knowledge. Also, these apps don’t work if the phone is turned off or out of battery, preventing you from tracking your kid, if that’s your goal.

Location-sharing apps also are big targets for advertisers who want to make your kid a customer. Checking in at the Starbucks earns him or her a coupon. Walking by a store in the mall prompts a “sale” alert on his or her phone. The data tracking that these apps do is a big overreach into teen’s consumer privacy, and companies are not always transparent about what they’re collecting and how they use the information.

Some teens will use these apps no matter what you say, so at least set ground rules: Have strict privacy settings, avoid public location-sharing, and consider requiring that you follow them. Get them to buy you a coffee with their coupon, too.

Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices.  Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org

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