Chapter excerpt: The ethics of location sharing

From the book chapter on navigation – covers maps, transit, and location tracking. This is about the privacy implications of location tracking …

We use Apple location sharing to track the locations of our Explorers’ phones. It’s enabled one to ride his bicycle across a large metropolitan area and another to travel by bus to and from school. We rely on it.

There are privacy concerns of course. These vary somewhat by years of life, but more by the development of judgment and independence. When our Explorers were early teens we had no privacy concerns at all. We configured their phones so they could not disable location tracking — though they quickly learned they could turn off their phone and block it.[1]

Now that our Explorers are young adults there is a calculated balance between the benefits of location tracking and the loss of privacy and autonomy. An adult Explorer with a legal Guardian, for example, has a different set of personal and social expectations than an independent adult. Similarly, an adult Explorer who gets easily lost, or who is especially vulnerable to dangerous exploitation, will benefit more from location tracking than a cautious Explorer with good navigation skills.

At this time our Explorers are comfortable with location tracking. I think there are three reasons they don’t object. One is that they’ve grown up in an always-connected, always-aware world. Another is that our location tracking goes both ways; they can track us as we track them. Knowing where we are relieves some anxieties. Most of all, I think they appreciate the times that location tracking has helped manage risks and challenges they face.

They are becoming more independent, however. We are coming to a time when their location tracking will change to “opt-in” rather than “always-on”. That transition can be a challenge for anxious Guides.

There are two ways to track the location of an Explorer’s phone — and, indirectly, to track an Explorer’s location or to find a lost phone. I’l review the two options and why to use one or another.

[1] This happens quickly. “You need to leave your phone on when you ride your bike.”
“Because we can’t see where you are when you turn it off …”