With summer weather upon us, we’re looking forward to ditching stuffy indoors gatherings for sunny rendezvous in parks and other outdoor locations. But once you’ve spread out your picnic blanket, you need to tell your friends how to find you—and “I’m by that big tree” doesn’t really help. So take advantage of the variety of apps that let you share your location safely and privately—without broadcasting it to the world.
In addition to figuring out where to meet up, apps like these can let you track your kids without telling every stranger where they are. The ones we’ve collected are free to use, simple to set up, and can save you a long series of calls or texts when you need to know where someone is.
Google Maps recently added a new location-sharing feature, which you can access on your cell phone or through the website. The only requirement is that the people you want to share with must have Google accounts and be able to use Google Maps.
The best place to start is in the Google Maps app for Android or iOS. Find the blue dot that shows your current location, tap it, and then hit Share your location. This will open up screens that let you choose who will see your location. You can also select how long this information will be available: anything from 15 minutes to 3 days to forever—or at least until you disable sharing again.
If you’re selecting location sharing for an indefinite time (“Until you turn this off”), then you need to pick people from your contacts list who can see where you are—or more accurately, where your phone is—at any time of the day. This is a pretty big reduction in privacy, so choose your approved friends wisely. If you’re only sharing your location for a set period of time, you can either select specific people to share with or generate a link that anyone can use to get a lock on your current position. Just bear in mind that the latter option can let any stranger with the right link find you.
People you’ve set up location sharing with will be able to see your location on Google Maps, both the website and the app, as long as they’re signed in with the right Google account. And if somebody has shared their location with you, you can reciprocate: Tap on their icon to choose whether or not they can see where you are too.
In order to remind yourself who can see you—and whom you can see—select Share location from the app menu. On the website, this is labeled Location sharing. Here you can check who gets to see your location and vice versa, and you can revoke or add access as you’d like.
Of course, for all of this to work, you need to make sure your phone lets Google Maps track your current position. The option should be switched on by default, but you can check by going to Settings in the Google Maps menu, then tapping Personal content and working through the Location options. They will be labeled slightly differently on Android and iOS, but should be relatively straightforward to figure out.
Find My Friends
Not to be outdone by Google, Apple has its own friends and family locator app, called simply Find My Friends. It comes installed as standard on new iPhones and iPads, but if it’s not on your device for some reason, you can download it again.
As you might expect from Apple, no Android version of this app is available. So this option is strictly for iPhone-toting users. In other words, if your wayward teen is using an Android smartphone, you can’t use Find My Friends to keep tabs on his whereabouts. Find My Friends is also available via your web browser: You can find it as an app in iCloud on the web.
From inside the iOS app, tap Add Friends to start sharing your location. Anyone you add must have an iPhone, or you’ll get an error message. Like with Google Maps, you’ll have the option to share your position for an hour, for the rest of the day, or indefinitely.
Back on the main screen, you can see the people you’re sharing your location with and for how long they’ll be able to find you. You can also tap on anyone on the list and ask to see their location too, although they’ll need to grant approval. To see where your contacts are, open the app, log into iCloud on the web, or use the Find My Friends widget on macOS. For the latter option, open the Notification Center, then tap Edit to see the widget.
On your iPhone, tap your avatar at the bottom of the Find My Friends screen to turn your own location sharing on or off. The settings screen also shows your current location, lets you choose which device you’re sharing from, and lets you add custom labels to particular places (like your home or the office).
One other feature to know about is geofencing. If you tap on someone who is sharing their location with you, the Find My Friends app lets you sign up for alerts if the person leaves a particular area (like school) or goes into a particular area (like the bar where everyone’s supposed to be meeting).
If Google and Apple don’t cover all your needs, or you need to share with a friend who uses a different platform, you’ve got many location apps to choose from. One of the most comprehensive and competent is Glympse, which you can download for free for Android or iOS.
Glympse is great for quick, customized shares with people that might not all be using the same brand of phone or the same apps. You can get instant directions to anyone you’re tracking using your phone’s built-in mapping app, and it’s also handy for one-off events where everyone needs to meet up together on time.
Here’s how it works: You can send location shares—called, appropriately enough, glympses—over email or text message. If the recipient is on a computer, or using a phone without Glympse installed, the glympse will show up in that person’s web browser instead, and only for the allotted amount of time. You don’t even need a Glympse account to share your location, though it helps to connect your social media accounts (so you can quickly share a glympse over a Twitter direct message, for example).
Like Google Maps and Find My Friends, Glympse gives you a lot of options for controlling who you share your location with and for how long. It also offers some neat extra features, like private groups where everyone in the group can see where everyone else is—helpful for those family get-togethers where you’re all descending on the same restaurant.
Anyone who’s sharing their location with you, from your kids to your soccer team, can be viewed on a map or added to a list of favorites for easy access. If you’re following a large group of people at once, use the lock symbol to keep the view fixed. Otherwise, the map will scroll as the contacts you’re tracking move around.
Another feature of note is the option to append public tags to your glympses. The tags work a bit like Twitter hashtags, letting the wider world know that you’re at a music festival or a sporting event. Anyone can view public tags, so you could set one up for your running club’s annual 10k, for example, to let everyone follow the race online. If you’d like to keep your location private, just avoid the public tags.
As well as the apps we’ve already mentioned, many instant messaging apps come with location sharing options. They let you tell one contact or group of contacts where in the world you are. This option works best if you do most of your event arranging and social interactions via one of these apps—in that case, it makes sense to use it for location sharing as well.
Take Google Hangouts for Android or iOS, for example. Tap the GPS track icon at the bottom of any conversation window, then choose your position on the map or set it to a nearby place where you’d like to meet up. You won’t get any live updates, and you can’t do anything fancy like set a time limit, but it’s a fast and straightforward way to tell someone where you are or plan to be.
Location sharing is also built into iMessage, the default messenger on Apple iOS. In any conversation, tap the “i” icon on the top right. Then you have two options: Either select Send My Current Location for a one-off, static share, or hit Share My Location to use Apple Maps as we’ve outlined above. The recipients will receive a link to follow or they’ll see a pin shown on a map.
Naturally, Facebook Messenger doesn’t want to be left behind. It has a similar feature: Tap the plus icon at the bottom of any conversation thread in the app for Android or iOS, then choose Location from the list. You can share live updates of your location for a set period of time, or send a one-off, fixed location.
The Facebook-owned WhatsApp (Android, iOS) has location sharing as well. Tap the attachment icon while you’re in a conversation, and Location will appear as one of the options. For now, you can only send someone your current position on a map, with no time limit and no live updating. But real-time location sharing is rumored to be on the way soon.
We can’t cover every single messaging app here, but if you use something other than the ones we’ve mentioned, it might well have a location-sharing option built in. Between native apps, third-party apps, and instant messaging add-ons, you’ve got plenty of ways to let people know where you are.