Google's new "Trusted Contacts" app and service makes sure your loved ones always know where you are or can find out where you are if there's an emergency. It's opt-in from both sides, only shares in real-time when you want it to and can put an end to "where are you, are you OK?" texts when someone's late home or to a meeting.
The feature launches today, and once installed, you can assign "trusted" status to one or as many of your contacts as you like. Once you do, that person can add you back to share their location with you as well, or to request your location at any time. Then, if they request your location, you have the option to share it or decline, but if you do nothing, your location is automatically shared with them after five minutes. The goal here is to give your loved ones or emergency contacts the ability to find out where you are even if you're incapacitated or unable to get to or use your phone.
The app also allows you to broadcast your location to a trusted contact, or receive location updates from a trusted contact, in real time. When you share, they will get a notification that you're sharing your location with them, and vice versa. Tap it to fire up Google Maps on your phone and watch their dot move around the map. So if you're headed home from work and you want your spouse at home to be able to see where you are, you can share it with them and they can watch in real time as you make your way home. (Which, ideally, can eliminate those "can you pick up milk from the store" messages after you've already passed the store.) Real-time sharing only works when you want it to. You can share your location in real time whenever you want, and then turn it back off and stop sharing it whenever you want.
I tested the feature a bit before it went live, and it's super useful from a safety perspective, make no mistake. I like the idea that if I can't get to my phone, or I'm in a situation where I can't text, my girlfriend can ping me when I'm late home and not responding and be able to find out where I am even if I can't reply for some reason, like a medical emergency or an accident. Similarly, I like the ability to find out if my father who lives alone states away from me is OK even if he doesn't answer the phone.
However, as with any location-sharing feature like this, privacy comes into play as well. Abusive spouses and partners could easily misuse this tech to spy on their victims, and force them to share their location at all times so they can watch their every move. Similarly, there's the whole grey area of parents using tech like this to track kids instead of talking to and trusting them, versus parents trusting kids but also wanting to see after their safety. It's a double-edged sword, and a complicated issue — one we don't have solutions to, aside from making sure we're all on the same page about what location-sharing tools are capable of doing, and enabling.
On the bright side though, no location data is shared with anyone unless they're explicitly added as a trusted contact, the other person accepts that responsibility and then also accepts location shares and share requests. The app doesn't run in the background on your phone, either, and above board with how it works. It sits in the app tray like any other app, and when sharing — or when someone's sharing with you — it keeps a persistent notification in the notifications shade.
If you're interested, check it out at the link below, or read Google's blog post below for more on the feature and how it works.