Google Maps has today announced a new feature to allow you to share your location with others. While that might seem creepy, it’s not the first to add this type of functionality. Facebook tells you when a friend is nearby — it even lets you “wave” at them and gives you the option to send a message if they holler back. Foursquare’s Swarm lets you check in wherever you are and both Lyft and Uber give you the option of seeing where your friend is if they share their ride location with you.
Now Google Maps will let you tell your friends where you are and give them directions to your location. It will also let you pick a special friend (like a family member, spouse or love interest, for example) to share your location with long-term.
If Google’s new addition sounds familiar, that’s because the company several years ago used to offer a similar option called Latitude, which was also built into Google Maps. But in 2013, Google decided to instead roll location sharing into its social network Google+ as it exited the business of check-ins and real-time tracking in Maps.
However, it was arguably a mistake to pull location sharing from Google Maps, where it worked best and made the most sense. Without the option, many users turn to location sharing today via third-party apps, family locators or even iMessage, which today includes its own, similarly designed location-sharing function. There’s even a new maps app designed specifically for people following each others’ cars on long road trips.
Those who don’t have Google Maps can share through a short link via SMS. (Of course, only share that short link with someone you trust enough not to post it to the internet or share with others you don’t know or want finding you.)
Location sharing can be a useful feature at times, but it’s also fraught with potential nightmare scenarios — breaking up with a significant other and forgetting you’ve set them to the always-on setting in location sharing within the app, for example.
This is one of the reasons why Facebook recently dialed back on location sharing in its “Nearby Friends” feature. Up until the end of last year, the feature let your Facebook friends see your precise location on a map when you had the option enabled. And it offered the ability to either temporarily or permanently share your location with others you selected.
But users who forgot about having location sharing enabled were opening themselves up to being tracked and potentially stalked. It also lent a sort of creepy vibe to the social network that’s today focused on letting users more precisely control what information they’re sharing, and with whom.
Facebook in December decided to pull out the precise location sharing component in Nearby Friends and now offers to show proximities and neighborhoods instead.
Google acknowledged location sharing is a sensitive topic but told TechCrunch, “This is about making things simple, accessible and giving people that access to transparency…Anyone with bad intentions can find many other apps and means out there. We are focused on adding on that layer of convenience.”
Google at least aims to make sure you don’t forget having left the location-sharing setting enabled. The company says you should get a notification every two to three weeks reminding you that you’ve left the feature on. Google also mentioned it has a public policy team working with CORA (Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse) to help inform its design of location-sharing features across Google products, including this new addition to Maps.
The new feature comes at a time when Google has been rapidly adding expanded functionality to its Maps application, in light of the threat of a now better-performing Apple Maps. Over the past several months, Google has added things like the ability to track where you’ve parked, visibility into the parking situation at your destination, integrated ridesharing, a bookmarking and bucket list option, the ability to add pits stops on a route and it redesigned the app’s interface for easier access to common needs, like info on traffic, transit and places.
Location sharing is rolling out shortly on iOS, Android and the desktop to users worldwide.
[Post updated to clarify the timing of the feature’s launch — not all users will see the feature today, as it’s a staged rollout.]