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AutoNavi Gaode map app raises concerns with new location tracking feature for families

Alibaba’s Gaode map app has a new feature allowing 12 family members to track each other’s location in real time.

Photo: shutterstock.com

Depending on who you are, a map app that lets you see where a family member is in real time sounds either really useful or really creepy. AutoNavi liked the idea enough to include it as a new feature in its Gaode map app, also known as Amap. But not everyone is enthused.

“I uninstalled Gaode right away. . . [in case] where I go is all public,” one person commented under a Weibo post from Gaode about the feature.

The feature, called “family map,” lets users invite up to 11 other family members to join and share their location with each other. It also allows users to get alerts when someone leaves or arrives at a designated location and see location history for the past 72 hours.

Gaode is one of China’s most popular map apps, and its operator AutoNavi is a subsidiary of Alibaba, which also owns the South China Morning Post. The app says the new feature is meant to help people ensure their family members are safe. In the Weibo post about the feature, Gaode also said that it lets people more easily show their love for family members compared with phone calls and messages.

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Many parents in China already use smartwatches to keep tabs on the whereabouts of their children. A Counterpoint report shows that China made up 62% of the global kids’ smartwatch market last year. Chinese brand Imoo shipped more than a quarter of all such smartwatches in the world. GPS trackers for seniors are also widely available to buy in China.

Not everyone was creeped out by the new location sharing feature. Many people online welcomed it as a way to keep an eye on elderly family members and help improve their own safety.

In its Weibo post, Gaode said a user survey conducted before the new feature was released showed 70% of users were in favor of location sharing. The other 30% of users who expressed doubt about the feature were mostly born after 1990, the company said.

Many Chinese internet users have become more conscious about their digital privacy in recent years. This has led some to question the potential for the Gaode feature to be abused. Some asked how this might be used in the hands of domestic abusers. Others suggested people might use it to spy on their partners.

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Gaode told Chinese media that the feature needs a user’s consent to be turned on. The company also said it’s designed to help families with children and seniors, especially those who suffer from Alzheimer’s.

Some on social media criticized the focus on seniors, pointing out that seniors often don’t use smartphones. They also said it might be difficult for a family member to say no when asked to use the feature.

Alibaba told us that even after a user opts in to location sharing, it can be turned off at any time.

Whether people love or hate the idea of location sharing, it’s hardly new. Google Maps lets users share real-time location data with contacts for a certain period of time. Apple also lets people do it in the Find My app, which incorporates features from the old Find My Friends app on iOS.

Another app called Life360 also targets families. It’s widely used enough in the US that teens who are constantly tracked by their parents complain about it on TikTok.

This article was first published by Abacus.