How to keep track of friends and family on Android

Vector collage featuring the Google Maps logo.

Many of us are hyperaware of the multitude of ways we can be tracked with modern technology, so you may feel like you don’t need to add another to the mix. But knowing the whereabouts of trusted friends and family can be useful a lot of the time, and it’s something you can do from your Android phone.

It’s worth saying at the start that you stay in control of who can see you and when — and you can stop location sharing at any time if someone in your life goes from being trusted to distrusted. 

I’ve used this many times to figure out where to meet someone or to check when guests are going to arrive so I know exactly how much time I’ve got left to tidy up. It can be helpful for parents, too, to know their kids are safe and where they’re supposed to be.

Location sharing can be a one-way or two-way arrangement, so you can see other people without them seeing you if you want (and if they permit it). If you do want to make your location visible, you need to enable location tracking on your phone: from Settings in Android, tap Location, then enable the Use location option.

Mobile screen with map on top, overlay with name David Nield, below that a title Share your real-time location and below that the choice of one hour or Until you turn this off.

Mobile screen with map on top, overlay with name David Nield, below that a title Share your real-time location and below that the choice of one hour or Until you turn this off.

Map of United Kingdom with icons indicating about four different people in different areas.

Map of United Kingdom with icons indicating about four different people in different areas.

To start sharing your location:

  • Open Google Maps on your phone, and tap your Google account avatar (top right).
  • Select Location sharing.
  • Tap New share to start sharing your location with someone new.
  • Your first decision is how long to share your location: use the + (plus) or (minus) buttons to set a time period between 15 minutes and nine hours.
  • Select Until you turn this off if you’d rather this contact were able to see your location until you decide otherwise.
  • Pick a contact from the list of suggestions, or tap More to choose a different contact.

Your chosen contact then gets an alert in Google Maps saying you’re sharing your location with them. They’ll get the option to share their location back, but they don’t have to. There’s no way to specifically request to see someone else’s location: they either have to follow the steps above or reciprocate through your location-sharing message.

The same Location sharing screen where you add new contacts also lists the people you’re currently sharing location data with — you’ll see the whereabouts of all these people plotted on the map.

Tap on a contact in the list underneath the map to zoom in on their precise location. You’ll also get an information card telling you how far away they are from you, when their location was last updated, and the battery level of their phone (which might be the reason they’re ignoring your calls).

Map with obscured name below and cards for Notifications and Can see your location.

Map with obscured name below and cards for Notifications and Can see your location.

Mobile screen with Add notification on top, followed by Choose location and then Get notifice choices.

Mobile screen with Add notification on top, followed by Choose location and then Get notifice choices.

You can tap Directions to get directions from your current location to the contact or Stop to immediately stop sharing your location with this particular person. You can also set up notifications for a contact:

  • In the Location sharing screen, tap the contact you want to notify.
  • Tap Add next to the Notifications heading.
  • Choose a location you want to base the notification around, either by accepting a suggestion from Google Maps or tapping Add location.
  • Choose whether you want to get notified when the contact arrives at this location, leaves this location, or both.
  • Tap Save and then Save again. Your chosen contact will get an alert saying that you’ve set up the notification, and the notifications themselves will be through Google Maps. 
  • Tap on Notifications on the location-sharing screen to edit or delete notifications.

Bear in mind that if you’re using the Google Family Link app to monitor the device of a child, location monitoring is an option there, too, on its own dedicated tab. You might find it more convenient to use this app rather than Google Maps for your kids — Google has more information about the feature.

Locations can be shared with your friends and family in Snapchat, too, via the Snap Map. Tap the map pin icon (lower left) on the main screen to see where all of your contacts are — or at least those contacts sharing their location with you. Tap the gear icon up in the top-right corner to set which of your friends are able to see where you are.

In terms of dedicated location-sharing apps not made by Google, Glympse is the best one I’ve come across. You get plenty of options for managing who can see your location and when, and you can even use it with people who don’t have Glympse installed on their phones. (They’ll be sent a link to a map on the web.)

Life360 is good, too, but it’s geared primarily toward families. As well as offering location-sharing features (including location-based alerts) that you and your kids can make use of, the app also offers private messaging and device tracking features. It can even warn you if it thinks a family member has been involved in an accident using phone sensors in the same way as Google’s Personal Safety app.

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