The Couples Who Use GPS Trackers to Keep Tabs on Each Other
Does location sharing equal caring? Maybe. Maybe not.
It’s easy to imagine how a GPS tracking app would’ve effected Tony Soprano’s marriage. Carmela would check on him constantly, asking him when he’s leaving the Ba-da Bing, what he’s doing near his Russian mistress’ apartment, or to pick up broccoli rabe while he’s in Newark trying to dispose of a body.
Tony cut to black before the Share My Location iPhone feature, Life 360, and other such services became common. He lived in a different world, one with a different understanding of privacy. Many modern husbands and wives, however, are happy — or at least not reluctant — to share their whereabouts with spouses, and vice versa, 24/7.
For many couples, location sharing is an act of efficiency — and even intimacy. Despite the NSA-ness of the whole thing Husbands and wives who track one another say the apps mainly serve to ease everyday communications and logistics. While privacy concerns can flare up, experts and couples say the services can be helpful, non-intrusive tools when approached correctly. It it a bit creepy? Sure. But whatever works.
Maggie, a mom of one from Vermont, sorted through a jumble of mixed emotions before sharing her phone location with her husband. She worried that being able to instantly pinpoint her husband’s whereabouts would create too much of a temptation to snoop on him or smother him with texts and calls about where he was going or when he’d be home. But, if there was an emergency, she wanted her husband to be able to easily find her.
“It’s something we try not to use but occasionally use when it’s convenient or when there’s a concern,” she said. When she met her family at an amusement park, for instance, she tracked her husband through her phone instead of texting to arrange a rendezvous at a rollercoaster. It made things easier.
Janelle, a mother of two who lives in Sacramento, said she and her husband have shared locations for years. They started doing it because she had a long commute that was often made worse by accidents and construction. Sharing her location helped her husband know when to start dinner.
“Now that we have two kids,” she says, “we find it even more helpful — from letting our kids know how close the other is to home after a long business trip to checking if they are still at the grocery store and able to pick up one more thing.”
Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center and a psychology faculty member of Fielding Graduate University, specializes in the influence social media and technology have on human behavior. She said using location sharing apps often help couples and families, provided they lay out the groundwork for their use.
“We have to be very careful that we don’t allow technology to violate other people’s, not just rights but the sense of respect that we give individuals,” she said. “In other words, we can’t allow it to destroy appropriate social boundaries.”
Consent, per Rutledge, is key to location sharing. If one member of the couple is reluctant to share locations, both need to talk it out.
“All relational best practices start with conversation,” she said. “And they also start with respecting the other person’s point of view. So if I want to track you, but you don’t want to track me, then I have to be willing to listen to your point of view and accept that.”
As Ai Chow of Denver, CO, noted, tracking your spouse through a device with a GPS-enabled device connected to a satellite is often faster and easier than relying on text messages.
“A quick glance and you realize that they are on the other side of the statue or the other end of the park, which helps greatly reduce the ‘where did you say you were going again’ messages,” Chow said.
Chow and her husband shared locations with Find My Friends when they both had iPhones. Since she switched to an Android phone, they’ve tracked each other with the service Life360. With location sharing, they can cut down on tedious text conversations and unsafe driving habits.
Liz, an American mom of two living in Germany, is comfortable using location sharing in her daily life, saying it cuts down on transactional conversations and eases potential household logistic dilemmas.
“On a regular basis, I use it for estimating how long [her husband’s] commute will be in order to plan dinner and bedtime for the kids,” she said. “Less frequently, I’ll use it if he’s at a work thing at night so that I don’t have to bug him with texts or calls to find out when he’ll be home.”
Of course, the ability to see where your spouse is at all times isn’t always a positive. Several sources for this story said that peeking at an app and discovering that a spouse is still in the office when dinner’s on deck can be a source of tension.
Connecticut mom of two Stacy Gauthier Nelson loves sharing locations with her husband and two daughters, as it provides peace of mind about where the kids are and saves time. However, she did say the drawback to knowing where everyone is, is wanting her family home at the end of the day.
“I will say that the only time it gets annoying is when I can see that my husband hasn’t left work yet and I get to nagging because I want him to come home,” she said.
Despite herself, Maggie has peeped on her partner. “He’ll say he’s leaving work in 20 minutes and an hour-and-a-half later, he hasn’t shown up and I’ve checked his location,” she said. “He’s always still at work when that happens, but I’ve done that once or twice.”
As an expat caring for two young kids, Liz says tracking her husband as he moves through Europe sometimes sparks mild jealousy.
“Very occasionally, I will use it to see what fancy restaurant he’s eating at when he is on a trip out of town and I’m resenting being stuck at home with the kids,” she said.
Liz is exaggerating her resentment for humor’s sake. But select corners of social media course with sincere hate for location sharing. Many teenagers loathe the app for chaining them to their parents. In 2018, teen TikTok users shot scores of blink-length videos about Life360’s impact on their social lives as well as their phones’ batteries. Teens aren’t alone in hating to have their locations known. Cheaters hate it, too, judging from the users of the subreddit /r/adultery who share intricately detailed instructions about evading location tracking services while being unfaithful to their spouses.
It’s easy to make light of teens’ and adulterers’ objections to location sharing, it’s wrong to dismiss or ignore victims of so-called “stalkerware” services apps that enable abusers to monitor their partner’s phones and track their locations without their knowledge.
The emotional undercurrent of location sharing isn’t uniformly negative, of course. Lance Beaudry said that he and his wife eagerly “stalk” each other through iPhone’s Find Friends. The Michigan couple shares locations both for practical reasons and, as he recently realized, because of deep-seated emotions. Living in snow-prone West Michigan, a blizzard could create an urgent need to know a spouse’s location. But more so, he says, tracking locations is something they do out of love.
“My parents got divorced when I was in high school,” Beaudry said. “My mom was secretly unfaithful to my dad. Even though I completely trust my wife, my attachment to Find My Friends has helped me realize I have some unaddressed wounds from my past.”
Comfort with location sharing varies. Not everyone will find the idea of being tracked as reassuring as Beaudry. Some will chafe from what they see as increased scrutiny and incursions into their freedom. At the end of the day, using location sharing apps comes down to what all healthy couples require: trust.