Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Life360 Sells Precise User Location Data

Jon Keegan and Alfred Ng (Hacker News, Reddit, MacRumors):

Life360, a popular family safety app used by 33 million people worldwide, has been marketed as a great way for parents to track their children’s movements using their cellphones. The Markup has learned, however, that the app is selling data on kids’ and families’ whereabouts to approximately a dozen data brokers who have sold data to virtually anyone who wants to buy it.

Through interviews with two former employees of the company, along with two individuals who formerly worked at location data brokers Cuebiq and X-Mode, The Markup discovered that the app acts as a firehose of data for a controversial industry that has operated in the shadows with few safeguards to prevent the misuse of this sensitive information.


Life360 discloses in the fine print of its privacy policy that it sells the data it gleans from app users, but Justin Sherman, a cyber policy fellow at the Duke Tech Policy Lab, said people are probably not aware of how far their data can travel.


Two former Life360 employees also told The Markup that the company, while it states it anonymizes the data it sells, fails to take necessary precautions to ensure that location histories cannot be traced back to individuals.

Nick Heer:

In 2019, Apple pulled about a dozen parental control apps from the App Store over privacy concerns, since they abused Mobile Device Management, though I cannot find any reports that Life360 was among them. However, I did come across a Wired article from later that year in which Louise Matsakis reported that Life360’s public trading prospectus indicated the value it sees in mining its vast collection of user data — largely of children — for profit.


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Kevin Schumacher

No, say it isn't so!


Also of note that Life360 has in the past complained about Apple's privacy rules: https://www.pymnts.com/apple/2019/app-developers-argue-against-apples-new-privacy-rules/

Which once again brings us into this tricky situation where, yes, Apple's solution is a monoculture (see Apple Accounts “Permanently” Blocked for one of the many reasons this is a problem) — but it's also, for better or worse, pretty good compared to the competition. More private / less abusive, and a bigger network.

@Sören Is the idea that without Apple’s privacy rules this would have been even worse?

@ Michael: possibly, but my point was this: if you go back two years to when Apple started restricting trackers like Tile, one of their arguments was that this is an antitrust problem, whereas Apple's was that this was going to help protect privacy. We're now seeing how true both of those are: Tile was (presumably) no longer viable as an independent company because they can't compete with Apple's massive network and OS integration, and Life360, who now also owns Tile, has been abusing data worse than we had previously known.

There are unfortunately few saints in this situation.

Any discussion about Apple and tracking needs to begin with an explainer about how Android users can see if they are being tracked by an AirTag.

Once that is crystal clear they can return to using privacy in their marketing.

I've been using Life360 to keep track of various family member locations and devices for awhile now since I live in an international region where Apple's "Find My" is disabled by law. Are there any decent alternatives?

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