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Find My Friends: Helpful or Dystopian?

by Gail Johnson

[originally published 12/6/19]


Since its release in October 2011, Find My Friends has received a boatload of praise, combined with suspicion and criticism. Sure, it seems harmless enough. It has been exceedingly helpful for me when tracking my sister, who is driving cross country and promised not to text and drive. It can be helpful when surprising a loved one, after not seeing them for a long period of time. So, how troubling can this iPhone feature really be? While there are upsides to the app, surprisingly, there seems to be a general consensus that Find My Friends is truly dystopian.

I realized that Find my Friends’ significance has become even blurrier as I talked to a close friend about the end of her last relationship.. Their relationship came to an end on one drunken evening after being friends, and then lovers, for many months. The last text she got from him was a notification that he had disabled her from being able to see his location on Find My Friends. Tough, right? A seriously harsh way to end things, and now what? How does a person respond to something so hurtful, but so odd? This wasn’t possible before 2011, but now, sharing your location has developed meaning—it suggests a deep sense of intimacy. The person that you share with can see where you are, at all times. Sharing your location entails trust and possible infatuation. Once this is broken, the sharing must stop, adding salt to the wound of an ending relationship.

On the most basic level, this app incites two questions: “is Apple tracking us?” and, “what do they do with this information?” In writing this piece, I surveyed some friends, asking their opinions on Find My Friends. One respondent mentioned that they were “too scared” to use the app in fear that someone was watching or tracking them. But where is the line drawn? For instance, other apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Maps consistently track our location. So much of our information is already attained by these apps, but the major consensus is that Find My Friends goes too far. For example, on Snapchat, there is a program much like this app, already included—you can zoom out to see a map of the world, pinpointing where all of your friends are. But while these apps track you, what about people actively searching for you? Find My Friends can assist your friends, family, or partner catch you in a lie about where you are. When asked if they thought Find My Friends was helpful or dystopian, one of my interviewees had a straightforward answer: “Dystopian. You don’t need to know where I am. I go where I want.” Despite being so opposed to the use of the app, this person uses it anyways. Is it necessary to know what all your friends and acquaintances are doing at every second of the day? Find My Friends, along with a constant stream of Instagram and Snapchat stories, makes viewing everyone else’s activities almost unavoidable. This constant ability of being able to know where everyone is, and what they are doing, may add to feelings of FOMO and isolation. These are sentiments that have been acknowledged to be exacerbated with heavy social media use. For instance, if you open Find My Friends, and see that all of your friends are at Long Island night, and you didn’t get the invite wouldn’t that be disappointing?

But there does seem to be a line between the good and the bad of the app. There are cases when Find My Friends is truly helpful. For instance, if you lose your phone and do not remember your Apple ID password to log in to Find My Phone, it is nice to have shared your location with a pal, so you can see the last location of your phone, without having to remember any pesky passwords. Or, when you’re having a ~crazy~ Oberlin night out, and lose a friend, and you need to get home because you are cold and tired, but don’t want to leave them alone at a random jazz show. You can pull up Find My Friends and see where they are.

When talking to two other friends, I asked their opinions on Find My Friends. Immediately one friend exclaimed: “I love Find My Friends!” The other responded: “Wait, do you track us?!” The first shouted back: “OH MY GOD YEA!” So, consensus? Helpful for one friend, yet terrifying for another.

In conclusion, Find my Friends can be helpful, and it is popular: I use it, and many of my friends and family use it as well. Still, it seems as though the general consensus is that this app is dystopian, mildly spooky, and overused. It is also interesting to think of the future of technology, in regards to the application Find My Friends. Many people that I know are weary of the lack of privacy associated with this app, but they still continue to use it. It will be interesting to see how tracking and sharing locations will expand into future innovations and technologies. What will people deem as okay? When will apps be going too far? Find My Friends is an example of an application where people are willing to give up their gut feelings, just for convenience, and treat technology as being the exception to the rule.

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