How the Find My app became an accidental friendship fixture


In July, Shay Pierre opened Apple’s location-sharing app Find My and noticed a friend at an unfamiliar apartment building in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Pierre, 23, zoomed in to inspect the building, then texted her friend its address, along with a joking “where are you?” Her friend came clean. He had started dating somebody, and he was at her apartment. If Find My had not given it away, Pierre would not have known about the relationship until months later.

Her friend later relabeled the apartment building in the app: “None of your business.”

As location sharing through apps like Find My has proliferated in recent years, they have become a staple in some friendships — ostensibly for safety but with the side effect of complicating dynamics between friends.

The effect is particularly noticeable among Generation Z and millennials, the first generations to come of age with the possibility of knowing where their peers are at all times.

It has changed how friends communicate with one another and blurred lines of privacy. Friends now, sometimes unwittingly yet obsessively, check one another’s locations and bypass whole conversations — about where somebody is, what they are doing or how their days are going — when socializing. All of that information can be gleaned from Find My.

Although Find My is not marketed as a social experience, sharing locations has become a test of sorts, much like being included on a close friends list on Instagram or on a private story on Snapchat can signal closer friendships.

Location sharing isn’t new. In 2011, Apple released Find My Friends. In 2013, 7% of U.S. adults said they checked into locations on social media or shared their locations with friends, according to the Pew Research Center. This year, 69% of Gen Z and 77% of millennials said they activated location-sharing features at least sometimes, compared with 62% of U.S. adults in general, according to the Harris Poll.

But what can be startling — and harder to quantify — is how widely younger people share their location information. Some say that they track a dozen or more friends on the app, and that those friends track them back.

These features are not limited to Find My. Dating, food delivery and ride-hailing apps often ask for access to location data. Facebook’s Messenger, Snapchat’s Snap Maps and third-party apps like the family-oriented Life360 — all available on iPhones and Android phones — offer real-time location-sharing features.

And location sharing is built into some smartphones. Starting in 2015, Find My Friends came automatically installed in iPhones. In 2019, it and Apple’s device-locating apps Find My iPhone and Find My Mac were rolled into the stand-alone Find My. Google Maps, which comes preinstalled in Android phones, has a similar location-sharing feature.

As with a check-in on Facebook or location tagging on Instagram and Twitter, users opt into location sharing on Find My. But unlike those features, Find My shares real-time location after users opt in, with the options to share for one hour, until the end of the day or indefinitely.


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