Gen Z’s latest tech craze is tracking each other’s exact whereabouts: ‘It’s exploded into a cool thing to do’

Location-sharing apps like Life360 and Apple's Find My Friends have become increasingly popular among Gen Z users, aged between 11 and 26. These apps allow users to track their contacts' real-time locations, providing a sense of safety and security for many users. The appeal of these apps is rooted in the need for safety, particularly for young people who are navigating new situations or going out alone. Users find comfort in knowing where their loved ones are and can ensure they reach their destinations safely.

Additionally, location-sharing apps help foster a sense of belonging and connection among Gen Z users. The ability to track and be aware of their friends' whereabouts strengthens their relationships and allows them to maintain that sense of togetherness, even when physically distant. For some users, using these apps has even become a form of entertainment, as they enjoy keeping tabs on their friends and playfully letting them know when they've been caught in suspicious locations.

The popularity of these apps is further fueled by their integration with social media platforms like TikTok. Many users have created viral content surrounding location-sharing apps, showcasing their features and experiences. This exposure has contributed to the growing adoption and usage of these apps among Gen Z users.

Despite their benefits, some users have experienced glitches or inaccuracies with these apps. For example, location-tracking apps may sometimes report incorrect information, leading to unnecessary panic or concern. However, the overall appeal and usefulness of these apps seem to outweigh these occasional drawbacks for many users.

In conclusion, the rise in popularity of location-sharing apps among Gen Z users can be attributed to their need for safety, the desire to stay connected with friends, and the entertaining aspects they offer. These apps have resonated with young people, providing them with a sense of security and togetherness in an increasingly digital world.  

“Do you ever just check on your friend’s location because it’s weirdly satisfying?” one TikToker wrote alongside a video clip of the Find My Friends app in use.

“It’s a form of social media for me,” another user captioned a video posted to the site. “[Got to] see what everyone is up to.”

But Hulls adds that there’s more driving the success of these apps than TikTok videos. 

“Gen Z has grown up in an era where technology and connectivity are the norms. Sharing their location is a natural evolution for a digitally native generation, especially as this generation matures—they’re learning to drive, heading off to college, and overall gaining more independence,” he tells Fortune. “Life360 gives teens greater opportunities to gain independence to explore the world, while parents gain more visibility and peace of mind without needing more control.”

According to Anthony LaFauce, managing director at Washington, D.C.-based PR agency Clyde Group, location-sharing apps are really taking off because they “scratch three itches for Gen Z.”

These are never wanting to feel alone, increasing their sense of security, and speeding up communication, LaFauce says.

“Gen Z grew up with much more supervision than previous generations. I spend a ton of time on [Reddit] and can tell you the fear of being alone is something that weighs heavily on this generation,” he tells Fortune. “This is also a generation that thinks phone calls are slow, texting is fine, and simply knowing where your friends are—a bar, basketball game, or another friend’s place—is the fastest.”

Businesses can benefit, too

Josh Amishav, founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm Breachsense, told Fortune the popularity of location-sharing apps offered businesses opportunities to create unique and targeted promotions.

“Geo-targeting capabilities allow businesses to send custom promotions to users who are nearby, creating immediate incentives for visits,” he explained. “For example, a restaurant could send a lunchtime coupon to app users within a certain radius, capitalizing on convenience and proximity.”

Event venues, like concert halls or sports stadiums, could also benefit by offering group coordination through the app, Amishav said. They could also add promotions for on-site food, merchandise, or tickets for future events.

Amishav added that the apps, which are often family-centric, could benefit family-oriented businesses by helping them develop their marketing strategies.

“Whether it’s child-care services, family dining establishments, or educational programs, the concentrated user base could be a ripe market for targeted, relevant business promotions,” Amishav said.

British entrepreneur and author Byron Cole also told Fortune that leveraging the popularity of location-sharing apps could be a strategic move for promoting businesses and expanding professional networks.

“These apps offer a unique opportunity to connect with a geographically targeted audience, enabling businesses to engage with potential customers in real time,” he advised. “Imagine hosting a special event or exclusive promotion tied to a specific location. It’s a creative way to draw in foot traffic and foster community engagement.”

He added: “For those who value networking, these apps can facilitate spontaneous meet-ups and interactions with professional contacts, creating invaluable face-to-face connections. Networking in business is essential, and your network really is your net worth.”

‘Invasive’ apps may put users at risk

LaFauce—who teaches a communications class at the American University—also notes, however, that many people who use location apps appear not to have thought the data implications through. 

“When people talk about privacy violations, if it’s done by a corporation or the government, it’s bad—but [waiving] privacy among friends is not really considered the same,” he says. “I know some folks who will not use Amazon’s [virtual assistant] Alexa because they think it’s listening. But then at the same time, people are just automatically putting out tracking data—location data still goes to a server somewhere that’s controlled by a very large company, it’s not point-to-point.”

According to Life360’s report, Gen Z users think the security gains that come from location apps outweigh any potential data misuse issues. One in three of the Gen Zers surveyed in the report said the increased physical safety and convenience was worth giving up some of their privacy.

Lauren Hendry Parsons, privacy advocate at ExpressVPN, warns, though, that while “invasive” location data collection can easily be accessed by hackers, there are other real-world implications young people need to consider when broadcasting their whereabouts. 

“Even if you judge this to be a low likelihood risk for your situation and ‘being hacked’ might feel like sci-fi or high drama and unlikely to happen in your life, there are risks that you need to consider much closer to home,” she says. “People need to consider what happens if they’re no longer friends with someone or have broken up with someone who they’ve previously shared their location data with.”

According to a recent ExpressVPN survey, as many as one in four people regularly track their ex-partner’s real-time location using location-sharing apps like Find My Friends.

“This type of surveillance can lead to risks beyond cybersecurity and potentially be used as a tool of coercive control, especially if the breakup wasn’t on good terms,” Hendry Parsons cautions. “After a relationship ends it’s essential to promptly revoke access or change your password.”

For their part, many Find My Friends users have given the privacy implications at least a little thought.

“At college, I had lots of people on the app, and afterward, especially during COVID, I realized that I didn’t want as many of those people that I wasn’t seeing so often to be able to see my location all the time,” Khan says. “If you’re going to your family’s house and everyone can see where your family lives… I did end up deleting a lot of people that I wasn’t very close to from Find My Friends for that reason. Now mine is always switched on, but that’s because I only have about five or six people on there. So I don’t really worry about [privacy] anymore.”

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