Should you share your location with your partner?

Every relationship has its disagreements. Who takes out the trash and washes the dishes? Who plans the meals and writes out the grocery list? And when is it okay to start tracking one another’s location?  

Location sharing is becoming the norm between romantic partners—50% of people valued location sharing in their relationships, according to recent research from Malwarebytes—and plenty of couples have found ways to track one another’s location, with consent, in a respectful and transparent way.

But, as a cybersecurity, privacy, and identity protection company, Malwarebytes is concerned with risk, and location sharing carries significant risks within many types of relationships.

There are new relationships in which the rules around privacy and sharing are still being agreed upon, old relationships in which power imbalances are deeply entrenched, and, of course, abusive relationships in which non-consensual tracking and surveillance are used as levers of control.

As a company—and not a relationship counselor—Malwarebytes cannot endorse any reasons for location sharing between romantic partners. But Malwarebytes can provide guidance on what safe location sharing looks like, including a requirement for consent.

Importantly, Malwarebytes can also remind readers about one simple, often-forgotten fact in this conversation: You don’t have to engage in location sharing if you do not want to.

It really is as simple as that. Do not agree to location sharing in your relationship if:

  • You are being pressured, coerced, or harassed into sharing your location.
  • You do not trust or feel comfortable sharing your location with your partner.  
  • You do not want to.

As the reasons for location sharing are valid for many couples, the reasons against it are just as valid, too. You have the right to determine the rules in your own relationship, and that includes the digital decisions that impact your feelings of privacy, safety, and trust.

Safety, security, and convenience

According to research conducted last year by Malwarebytes, location tracking among partners is popular in North America—and even more popular amongst younger generations.

When polling more than 1,000 people about their attitudes and behaviors around online privacy and cybersecurity, a full 50% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “monitoring my spouse’s/significant other’s online activity and/or location makes me feel they are safer.”

Similarly, 42% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “being able to track my spouse’s/significant other’s location when they are away is extremely important to me.” This sentiment was higher amongst Gen Z—49% felt the same way compared to the general population.

As to why location tracking has become so popular, there is little doubt. It’s about safety (or, at least, the feeling of it).

On Reddit, the question of location tracking between partners is frequently posed and is just as frequently answered: “I think it should be fine for safety reasons,” said one user in a the most popular response to a thread.

In writing for the media platform Her Campus, one Pennsylvania State University student said that, if she already shares her location with her friends for safety, “why would I not share it with someone I am involved with romantically?”

For some of the editorial staff at the healthy living brand Poosh, location sharing also provided convenience.  

“If I want to call my boyfriend for something, sometimes I’ll check his location first (if he’s at the office, for example, I won’t call),” wrote Erika Harwood, managing editor. “Or if he tells me he’s on his way home and it seems to be taking unusually long, it’s easier to just check his location and see if he’s stuck in traffic.”

Harwood continued:

“Basically, it all boils down to me trying to eliminate as many phone calls from my day as possible.”

What these explanations all share is purpose and consent. The people featured here have told their partners about location sharing, and they have identified specific reasons to engage in this practice. Because of this, these situations are hardly cause for alarm.

What Malwarebytes hopes to draw attention to, however, are starkly different situations.

Coercion, control, and crisis

Location “sharing” implies two partners who consensually share their locations with one another. But as Malwarebytes discovered last year, location “sharing” isn’t the only activity that some people engage in—it’s also location spying.

According to the same survey last year, 41% of all people admitted to monitoring their partner in some way without their partner’s permission.

That includes 16% of people who non-consensually “tracked my spouse’s/significant other’s location through an app or Bluetooth tracker (like Apple AirTags, Tile, Find My)” and 13% who non-consensually “installed monitoring software/apps on spouse’s/significant other’s devices (e.g., Life360).”

The harms here are obvious.

Non-consensual location tracking in a relationship is a clear invasion of privacy. It puts sensitive information into one partner’s hands without the other partner knowing it, and the nature of the information itself can be used to harass and stalk someone—especially after a breakup.

Non-consensual location tracking is also present in domestic abuse, particularly in instances where one partner is being spied upon with the use of “stalkerware” apps. And while those who deploy these types of invasive apps are not guaranteed to be physically abusive against their partners, several documented cases highlight the risk.

As Danielle Citron, professor of law at UVA, wrote back in 2015 about what she called “cyber stalking apps”:

“A woman fled her abuser who was living in Kansas. Because her abuser had installed a cyber stalking app on her phone, her abuser knew that she had moved to Elgin, Illinois. He tracked her to a shelter and then a friend’s home where he assaulted her and tried to strangle her. In another case, a woman tried to escape her abusive husband, but because he had installed a stalking app on her phone, he was able to track down her and her children. The man murdered his two children. In 2013, a California man, using a spyware app, tracked a woman to her friend’s house and assaulted her.”

These cases may sound extreme, but they should not be ignored. They reveal that it isn’t location sharing itself which is harmful, but rather that harmful relationships will lead to harmful forms of location tracking.

Be sure that, if you do engage in location sharing, it is with someone who you trust, on both of your agreed terms, and in a way that you can turn off the location sharing at any point in the future.

What’s the answer?

Your real-time location is extraordinarily sensitive information, and as such, access to it should be understood as a privilege, not a right. No romantic partner has a “right” to your location just because their previous partners practiced location sharing. No romantic partner should coerce or harass you into location sharing. And no, the refusal to share your location, at any stage of the relationship, is not a “red flag.”

If you do decide to share your location with your partner, be sure to follow these guidelines:

  • Have an open conversation about location sharing with one another. You must obtain consent from your partner if you’re going to share your locations. Spying on your partner’s location without their consent is a breach of trust.
  • Have a reason why you’re engaging in location sharing. Many problems in a relationship will not be solved by location sharing. Have a firm reason why you want to share locations and what value it will provide. If you do not have a good reason, you may not need location sharing at all.
  • Set up rules about location sharing. Location sharing can be enabled on a case-by-case basis for, say, music festivals, vacations, or solo hiking trips. It can also be enabled between partners indefinitely.
  • Check in periodically about whether it is working. Just because you agreed to location sharing a year ago does not mean you cannot revisit the topic. See how location sharing feels and then see if you still want it later in your relationship.

As every couple has its own rules and behaviors for success, there is no single answer to whether you should share your location with your partner. You know your partner—and yourself—best to answer this question. Be safe, whatever option you choose.

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