How location-sharing apps like Find My Friends came to represent affection

It started because Kelsey McKinney wanted to know where her sister was at every moment of the day.

“I love calling her and she loves calling me and it was just practical to share our locations so we knew if now would be a good time to call without question,” said Ms. McKinney, 31. Longtime journalist and podcast host Ordinary chatter. The sisters have begun sharing their locations using the iPhone’s Find My Friends feature, which allows users to visualize all of their friends sharing location on a global map.

“Very quickly,” said Mrs. McKinney, “I loved looking at her little blob.” “It was kind of affectionate with me, and I started asking my friends to share their locations with me, or just share mine with them in hopes that they would reciprocate.”

Location sharing has long been the domain of parents with wayward teens or geeky partners, but apps like Find My Friends are being used more and more by teens who want to know where their friends are and what they’re up to, without actually asking.

Most smartphones offer location sharing capabilities, but since more than half Of Americans using iPhones, Find My Friends is by far the most popular.

Apple’s Find My functionality wasn’t conceived as a way to lovingly stalk your friends, but that’s what it’s slowly becoming. When it first appeared, in 2009, as Find My iPhone, the app allowed users to use GPS data to track lost iPhones; Find My Friends came two years later, and was marketed to concerned parents who wanted to monitor their children.

In 2019, the company Combine location tracking capabilities into a single app, called Find My, which allows users to see the locations of their friends and Apple devices. Since then, Find My Friends has become a digital calling card of sorts, a way to express affection and familiarity between close friends and differentiate them from the rest of their online acquaintances.

Courtney Traube, L.A. style blogger and founder of Stevie, a CBD brand, said she used Find My Friends with about 15 people, including her best friend Perry. “We use it to catch each other up to see if we’re going on shopping trips without each other,” Troupe said. If it is revealed via Find My that she is shopping unaccompanied, her friend lets her get it in a series of “crazy messages”: “You went without me! Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re on Replica now!”

Several people said they’ve used the app to track friends as they go on Tinder dates, or to make sure they get home safely after a night of partying. It came in handy for Kevin LeBlanc, 25, a fashion assistant in New York, when he lost his friend on the street one evening, and he used the app to locate her. The friend’s mother told Mr. LeBlanc that her daughter was in an ambulance and told him to follow her. “Its location was there, so I knew exactly where it was,” he recalls.

When the coronavirus pandemic has forced Americans to turn to the Internet for entertainment, home delivery, and more, awareness of the way companies and governments use the personal data we post online also increased.

Yet despite this growing discomfort, there’s also a sense of helplessness, a general resignation to the idea that the Internet is an inevitable part of modern life, and that being less about your data is just part of the deal. a 2019 Pew Research Center survey It found that “about 81 percent of the public say the potential risks they face from data collection by companies outweigh the benefits, and 66 percent say the same about government data collection.” Pew also found that most Americans “feel they have little or no control over how these entities use their personal information.” If tech giants and governments have access to your personal data, some might think, why shouldn’t your friends and family?

Apple’s Find My App uses end-to-end encryption, which means the company can’t technically see the locations of its users, but that doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable sharing their location with the company or their friends. Ms. McKinney said she has a few friends who aren’t comfortable sharing their locations, but she wasn’t holding out for reciprocity. She said, “Some of my buddies are very private and don’t want me to see their location, but that’s okay: they have to see mine anyway.”

It’s true that there’s probably nothing more intimate than direct site sharing – the level of trust you have to have in someone to reveal how much time you spend sitting in your apartment watching TV! But sharing a location can also provide a sense of closeness even when you’re far away.

Ms McKinney admits that part of the app’s appeal comes from the fact that she’s “very curious”. “But I also think it gives me a sense of security knowing my friends are okay,” she said. “It’s so comforting to look at my list and be like, ‘These are all my friends, and they’re out there in the world even if they’re not here with me.'” “

The trend on TikTok where people share screenshots of their Find My Friends maps seems to have stemmed from the same sentiment: “I check Find My Friends to make sure all my sims are where they’re supposed to be,” user 1 user books.

For Matt Brown, 31, an executive coordinator at a New York hedge fund, Find My Friends isn’t so much a casual hobby as it is a way of life. “I always preach that Find My Friends is my favorite app,” he said.

Mr. Brown is currently tracking the location of 47 of his friends around the world. “As someone who lives in New York, spontaneity is really hard,” he said. It’s hard to be like: ‘Hey, what are you doing now? Do you want to have dinner? “

He said he loves Find My Friends because no matter where he is in town, there’s a chance that someone he knows will be there soon. “I’ll say: ‘Hey, what are you doing now?'” I’m at this bar – do you want to come and meet me? “

Ms. McKinney also called Find My Friends her favorite app. “My favorite thing to do is give one of my friends the point of the week for being the most interesting point to watch this week,” she said. One of her friends recently won Dot of the Week two weeks in a row for her trip to Europe. “I have been following her little point in Rome, and I was so glad every day to see her in another place to have fun!”

Of course, Find My Friends is only as accurate as the GPS data it has access to; Almost everyone who uses it religiously has a story about the panic that occurred when someone’s point appeared where it shouldn’t be. Mariel Tyler, a photographer in New York, said that once when she went to check her sister’s location during a Tinder date, the app said she was in “the Hudson River.” Mrs. McKinney had recently been staying at a hotel next door to the hospital, which sent one of her friends into a spiral when she checked the app and thought Mrs. McKinney was hospitalized.

For a generation that has grown up alongside the Internet, sharing location may seem like less of a threat to privacy and more of an expression of affection and trust. Using Find My Friends requires the ability to put aside jealousy or fear-mongering and feel nothing but joy for the friend whose little dot bounces around the MetLife playground, even if you’ve got Taylor Swift tickets and you don’t. Being happy when your friends are thriving, even when you may not be, is the purest expression of friendship. As a single user on Twitter put it: “I like to find my friends.. like oo where my friends are :)”