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article imageGoogle adds real-time location sharing to Maps app

By James Walker     Mar 22, 2017 in Technology
A Google Maps update has added support for real-time location sharing, a controversial feature that lets friends see your map position for a limited time period. Google said it'll help people meet at social events and indicate when you're running late.
Google announced the feature in a blog post today. The update is rolling out now to iOS and Android devices. Location sharing is activated using a new setting in the Google Maps hamburger menu, labelled "Share location." You can also turn it on by tapping on the blue dot marking your location on the map.
You can choose which friends to display your location to and specify how long the location sharing should be active. Once you confirm the options, your selected friends will see you on their map within the app. Your location will remain visible until you either turn off sharing or the timer expires. A special icon displayed on your own map indicates whether friends are currently able to track your location.
Location sharing isn't limited to your direct friends and family stored in your Google contacts. It’s also possible to generate a public link which anyone can use to view your location. This could be given out to co-workers and representatives from other companies when you need to meet up in person. The link can be shared directly using messaging apps.
Google suggested the feature will be useful if you're running late for a social event or business trip and want others to see where you've got to. Alternatively, it could allow you to navigate a friend towards your location if they're lost in an unfamiliar area. If you're using guided navigation, you can share your route with your contacts so they can see your estimated arrival time and progress.
While it could be useful at times, location sharing still remains a controversial feature which isn't always popular with users. Google has sought to allay concerns that friends could stalk your progress by making it obvious when location sharing is turned on. However, concerns about the consequences of accidentally enabling the feature or the location data being intercepted by a third-party remain serious considerations.
The problems associated with location sharing have already seen one major player reverse its stance on the feature. In December, Facebook decided to stop showing the precise location of users in its Nearby Friends feature. Instead, the app now gives a broader overview of where you are, marking the neighbourhood and region rather than a street-level map.
Google commented on the sensitivity of location sharing, telling TechCrunch it's focused on "making things simple, accessible and giving people that access to transparency." The company acknowledged that not everyone is comfortable with the idea of apps being able to monitor their position, announcing it has an internal public policy team to oversee the implementation of location sharing across its apps. The feature is available worldwide in Maps from today.
More about Google, Google maps, Apps, Mobile, Smartphones
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