Theoritically, is there a way to have a privacy respecting location tracker?

Alright, so before folks say that location tracking is inherently not private, I get it. A lot of information can be given up just based on your location data. Anyone who has access to that could figure out a ton about your life and would be a risk for certain threat models.

Here is the threat model that I am coming from. I have a family member who really likes Life360 and insists I use it. I don’t like it because Life360 doesn’t seem to be very privacy respecting based on their policies and settings, not to mention who knows who they’re selling my location to.

I would like for something else to exist, but I couldn’t really find privacy respecting alternatives. I figured that was because at some point you need to use a third party to tell you your location, so if that third party is not trusted in your threat model, you’re out of luck.

So my next thought was, is there not a way to implement something like this where you can mitigate some of the privacy loss? I remembered that WhatsApp has a feature where you can send someone you’re location as like a pindrop.

What if something like that existed instead of a constant monitoring? Imagine that instead of this service constantly knowing where you are, someone checks their app, that’s when a request is made to your phone, and then your app sends your location in that moment? And as long as the app remains open that person would get an update every minute. Or another way to spin it would be that a request is made on a certain cadence that you or the other person set so that every hour they get an update. Yes, you are basically still using whoever provides your GPS service to send that information, but at least it’s much more sporadic and you could potentially change the settings so that it’s even more so.

To take this further, imagine this feature is in Signal (or it can be its own app). Imagine they build this into Signal so that someone makes the location request, Signal grabs your coordinates, and it sends it back as a Google Maps link or something. In this kind of situation what’s happened is functionally the same as someone asking where you are and you responding with a Google Maps link of where you are, only it’s being automated by the app. As far as Google is concerned you basically just checked your Maps app for a second, but there would be no log on their end. The rest of the communication happens in Signal, which is as private as everything else you do in there.

Am I crazy, or does this solution feel doable? It doesn’t have be Signal, but it could still work as its own app. To the people who want to be able to track their loved ones for safety reasons, they still get the information they need but without a middleman constantly watching both parties.


PS - I know Life360 is cringe, but it ain’t going nowhere unfortunately.

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I know with GMaps you can create a location sharing link that you can share with an app like signal.

Have you considered first party Solution like Find my. I have only used it to find devices, but you can easily set up to find people and share locations or setup family sharing.

Regarding privacy and security, apple claims data is end-to-end encrypted and also have documentation on how they keep data anonymous and secure.

I am not sure if this is a good alternative to Life360, but if they use an Apple device it is worth considering.

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I’m not sure how much work you’re willing to put into this, but in the past, I’ve looked into OwnTracks. Besides tracking your location and sharing it with others, it also can be integrated with Home Assistant to say turn off the lights when you leave home. Personally, I would self-host the recorder over trusting someone’s server, but I recognize that might not be the best option for everyone. Even so, here’s their guide if you choose to go that route.

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I found this little tutorial on that… and I think it might be as close as I get. It’s still sharing my location with Google, but I already have location services on all the time for Life360. With this I at least cut them out as a party because they uses Google Maps as well. Will give it a shot!

Thanks for the recommendation. I would consider this but I use Android and the family member uses iPhone. :confused:

@CrocodileDundee I’m still not there yet to be able to self-host, but at this point with so many alternatives being this way I think I’ll have to learn sooner rather than later, lol.

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This should work. You can access Find My easily via iCloud.com site.

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Someone may have suggested NextCloud and the tracking options there.
I never set this up when I was using NextCloud and Cloudamo. It came down to just ask me where i am at.

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Following up: I decided to not use this feature because anyone who has the link that I would send would also have access to see my live location. I’m not a high value target or anything like that, but that still seems like a hole in OpSec that I don’t want to tempt.

If you want to spend weeks of headache attempting to set up a self-hosted barebones version of life360, look into OwnTracks. I managed to get it setup running of a rasPi but it was a headache for sure, and i don’t even use it anymore (drained way more battery than life360). There’s an open source one called Zood Location on Izzy that claims to be E2EE and you don’t have to hassle with setting the server up (if you trust it) but i have no reason to trust it really so I didn’t use it. It had a decently clean UI but was still extremely barebones