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Google Maps just got a great new location sharing feature, but it already needs fixing

Published Mar 19th, 2021 9:21PM EDT
Google Maps Features
Image: Google

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Aside from helping you navigate, Google Maps has another useful location-related feature. You can use the app to share your location with other people. That’s an excellent feature to have when meeting up with friends or family, and it’s even better for tracking loved ones on the map. Google Maps can help you keep track of your children and/or parents to ensure they’ve reached their destination. But the idea of the feature being used by someone with malicious intent is genuinely terrifying.

In theory, someone could use Google Maps to spy on others and abuse the sharing location feature. The good news is that Google has just released a feature that can help alert you to the fact that you might be sharing your location with people who should no longer have access to such data. The bad news is that Google needs to make a key change to help you guard yourself against being tracked against your wishes.

Google has started rolling out a Google Assistant notification informing users they have access to other people’s locations. The prompts will remind you that a friend or family member is sharing their location with you and that you can ask “Where is Contact Name?” to see them on the map. The Assistant will display a map snippet with the location information. The Assistant also lets you send requests to contacts for location sharing.

The way location sharing works is that you can set it up when you needed it. But you might forget to turn it off when location data is no longer necessary. You might want to share your location with a person for a finite period of time, but you could end up forgetting to stop sharing. The notification above might make you realize that you’re sharing your location with people who should not have continued access to your whereabouts and remind you to check who has access to your settings.

As Android Police points out, an even more useful feature would be for the Assistant to remind you of all the people who have access to your location and offer you a quick way to make changes. By periodically informing people that others have access to their location, Google Maps could provide a valuable privacy service. Google Maps could prevent stalkers from keeping tabs on unsuspecting victims after having enabled location sharing on their devices.

A recent leak revealed that Apple is building such a tool in iOS 14 to prevent people from placing objects that can be tracked close to a target. The iPhone would detect that an unknown tracker is moving with you at all times and block it from sending out location data. The feature is believed to have been devised for the unannounced AirTags trackers.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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