How to share your location with iOS 8 (without creeping yourself out)

family sharing hero

I don’t consider myself an excessively private person nor think I’m a superspy in civilian clothes. But there’s something about sharing my location with other people that gives me the heebie-jeebies. I absolutely don’t want to do it all the time, but I love the ability to choose when, where, and to whom I do.

iOS 8 offers a host of ways to share your location with other people, some of which appear for the first time in this release. Each method of sharing brings with it a complementary control that lets you either disable it temporarily, stop sharing entirely to a given individual, or set a time-bounded limit.

location sharing xkcd

The location uncertainty principle.

These controls neatly offset my burbles about privacy. Apple has responded to these sorts of worries or discomforts by making fine-grained options available. This article will familiarize you with the four ways you can share location in iOS, which may include methods you don’t know about.

It’s an interesting set of intersections between temporal, loose ties, and strong ties.

Whenever the global iOS Share My Location option (Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Share My Location, or Settings > iCloud > Share My Location) is enabled, everyone with whom you’ve opted to send your details can see where you are. The view will show either or both groups Friends and Family, depending on whom you’ve added.

The Share My Location section in Settings also lets you remove people you’re tracking one at a time, no matter by which method you follow them, by tapping a name and tapping Stop Sharing My Location. They remain “following” your location, however, if they were before.

It also lets you pick your “presence,” which device you want to announce your location, out of your set of devices logged into the same iCloud account. You can select this either in Share My Location > From, and picking a listed device, or in Find My Friends, as noted below. This is useful if you’re carrying, say, an iPad and iPhone, and turn the iPhone off for power reasons, or leave one of those behind and want to show your presence from the one you still have you.

Find My Friends

What it’s good for: sharing your current location with optional geofencing notifications with up to 50 close, personal friends.

find my friends main view

Find My Friends shows everyone who has shared his or her location with you, and their current known location.

The Find My Friends app (shown as Find Friends on the iOS home screen), introduced in late 2011, is the oldest method of sharing location. It helped me snag a ride for the first time in January 2012 as I noticed friends driving near San Francisco’s airport.

The notion is that you add and remove people you know with whom you want to share your location as a binary thing—on or off. The app is asymmetrical in that you can add up to 50 people with whom you choose to share your location, and view the locations of up to 50 people who don’t need to be the same folks. You can invite friends and they can invite you. (You can disable incoming requests by tapping the Me item in the Friends list and disabling Allow Friend Requests.)

Tap Add, and a list of potential parties with whom you can share appear. It isn’t your full Contacts list but, rather, seemingly filtered by those people who have an email address that is also an Apple ID. Select one or more people, and tap Invite, and they will receive an alert and can opt to follow you or not.

Find My Friends used to let you set up both a quasi-permanent group from which you can add and remove people, as well as time-bound temporary events. Temporary or ad hoc groups have now been moved to iMessage, described later.

fmf kinds of geofence

Find My Friends offer multiple kinds of geofence notifications.

Where I start to feel a bit of squick is with the geofencing options. Geofencing is a nifty feature that lets you attach an action to moving into or out of a defined geographic area. Of course, this is all opt in: nobody gets alerts about your movements without your explicitly setting it up.

Tapping the Me button and then tapping Notifications lets you set up a list of people with whom you want to give them alerts. Right Now pushes your current place, while When I Leave and When I Arrive sends the note when your state changes. This can be one-time, or, by tapping Repeat Every Time, recurring. To prevent a series of notifications, you can drag the geofence, shown as an orange shaded circle, further away to encompass more variation in location, such as across an entire college campus or large building up to cities or states. The limit is a 1,500-mile radius.

fmf notify me

You can set geofencing alerts to be notified about other people's movement within Find My Friends.

If your children (or perhaps elderly relatives, with permission) have cellular-enabled iOS devices, being able to know when they arrive or leave school, home, or other locations can be a passive way to obtain peace of mind without the necessity to text or call from either end of that relationship.

This works in reverse, too, as anyone sharing his or her location with you can be pinned down as well. Tap a contact in the Friends list, then tap Notify Me, and you can pick to be told when they Arrive or Leave their current location or any location you specify.

You can switch the device that’s used for presence, as in the Settings app, by tapping the Me item and picking a device from Share My Location From section near the top.

Family Sharing

What it’s good for: letting your family members know where you are.

Family Sharing is a more intimate way to give up-to-date information on your whereabouts to those with whom you also trust with your iTunes purchases and other items.

people you are sharing to

The Share My Location view in Settings combines a global off button, a presence choice, and a list of all those who can see you. The Friends group is shown here, and your Family Sharing partners are in a separate Family group.

The option, which works across iOS 8 and Yosemite, allows up to six people to share iTunes, iBooks, and App Store purchases (although not all in-app purchases). It also shares information via Find My Friends and Find My iPhone/Mac.

When enrolling in Family Sharing, each invited member can choose whether or not to allow tracking of their location; tapping Not Now defers the decision, and it can be changed later.

Apple grafted Family Sharing into iOS 8 so that it’s available almost as a special group relative to Find My Friends. You use Find My Friends to see family members, and they’re listed under a Family heading in the Share My Location options in Settings. As with Find My Friends, you can disable all location sharing or pick individuals and remove their ability to track you.

If you remove a family member, you can invite them back later, and they can confirm that they want to follow your position.

Family Sharing members can also use Find My iPhone for tracking as long as sharing is on, seeing where all devices that are both associated with an included iCloud account are located and have location sharing enabled. (When location sharing is off on a device, its online or offline status remains revealed, and it can be forced to play a sound. With the Apple ID password for the account, it can also be put into Lost Mode.)

iMessage

What it’s good for: time-limited sharing of your location with one or more people.

iOS 8 baffled a number of people, if Apple’s and other discussion boards are any indication, by moving temporary location sharing groups from Find My Friends into iMessage. (Apple’s support note on Find My Friends remains out of date as well.)

message share not shared

Messages lets you share your location as a Maps slice by tapping Send My Current Location.

With any individual or group iMessage, whether already underway or one you’re starting by selecting a member or members, you can access sharing options by tapping the Details button to the right of the person or list of people’s name.

You may tap Send My Current Location to push a map slice to them of your whereabouts. If that map is tapping in Messages, it opens a Maps view within the Messages app. You can also tap Stop Sharing My Location, which turns off location sharing just as if you tapped in the Settings app.

messages sharing with already shared

For someone with whom you're actively sharing your location, Messages lets you opt to share a Maps slice or to stop sharing.

For individuals or groups that you’re not already connected with, you can also tap Share My Location and choose among sharing for an hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely. The last of those options is equivalent to adding someone to Find My Friends.

Apple says you may have up to 50 temporary groups with up to 50 people in each group.

Maps

What it’s good for: sending a static map, rather than enabling real-time tracking.

The last of these options is the simplest. Rather than send dynamic location information, you can share a map tile from the Maps app by tapping the Share button, and then choose a means of sending it.

messages current map slice

Messages sends a section of the map as your current location, which can be tapped for a Maps view.

If sent via Messages, the map section works just as if you’d used Send My Current Location directly from Messages.

Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons

A travel agency in my hometown when I was growing up had the slogan, “When you go, go away.” Perhaps not the best thought-out motto, but it does summarize my general view on being out of sight. But when you travel, even between school and home, work and apartment, or with others, having the ability to be found—and choose when you are—reduces some of the stress associated with it. Pick wisely, and remember the “off” button.

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