Guide to tech: Location sharing & monitoring apps

Using geo-tracking apps & location settings on kids devicesDownload Guide

Inside the guide

Every year on Christmas Eve, millions of children excitedly track Father Christmas’s journey delivering presents around the world. Logging on to their iPad or smartphones, they use GPS to find the exact location of Saint Nick.

But while nine million children are comfortable using location-setting apps to track their favourite person on a solo journey – the question for parents is, are you?

Christmas tech set up safe

This weekend parents will be battling to find the best deals on tech – with retailers slashing prices for Cyber Monday.

Yet when you set up your child’s new bit of Christmas tech, many of the apps will automatically offer the opportunity to share your location.

The Internet Matters guide looks at the issues you need to consider before deciding whether to share your child’s location…as well as recommended apps for location tracking.

Before you buy your child’s new bit of Christmas kit, think about what tracking services you want. Some phones come with security installed, for example, the Monqi Phone has controls built into the handset. Others are specific to the make of the phone.

Be aware of what apps your child uses as some can reveal their location to lots of people, for example, Snapchat maps. This can reveal their location to their whole friends’ list, but also make children feel like they are missing out – for example, their friends are all at a pop concert when they are at home. You can choose privacy settings that are right for them by blocking some apps from accessing your child’s location while enabling others. Visit our control guides to learn how.

Some apps, like Family Time, send parents notifications when their child strays out of an agreed geographical zone. This might be a good option for parents who want to keep an eye on their children’s whereabouts, without feeling like they’re invading their privacy. This can be a good tool to establish boundaries with your child and as they get older and gain more independence. It’s a good idea to schedule in checkpoints of when to review the boundaries set so they work for both of you.

No app can make up for a lack of trust. Whether you decide to disable the location settings within the phone or install apps specifically designed to help you keep track of your child’s location, you should be honest and open with your child.

It’s vital you tell them whether you’re tracking their movements or not, and the reasons behind it. You can set rules about when you will be checking their location, for example, if they are late home or not responsive.

Lots of parents want to see where their younger children are when they’re out alone or with friends, using a well-known app like Boomerang or Qustodio. However, as children get older, they will want to find their own independence. It’s important that if you have installed a tracking app on your child’s phone, you have regular conversations with them as they get older, so they understand why you’re doing it and listen to their point of view.

If you feel like your child is vulnerable to sharing too much online, you can install apps to monitor what they are sharing and with whom. Encourage your children to not share their location or images in real-time so they don’t give away their location to people they don’t know. Talk about what the potential risks are if they do and what they can do to if it does happen, i.e. review privacy settings, review friends list to ensure they share with only people they know.

You’ll never be able to fully monitor your child’s whereabouts through their phone, so it’s important to create an environment where your child is able to share what they’ve been up to and any concerns they may have. Children can get around tracking technology by simply leaving their phone at a friend’s house.

Top apps for location tracking

The new Screen Time features built into the iOS 12 for iPhone and iPad devices offer great family controls for free and at the operating system level. Of course, this is limited to Apple mobile devices.
Monqi is an all-in-one solution. It’s a smartphone that has controls built into the handset. At £149 it’s not cheap, but that price includes the device as well.
Once installed, Boomerang lets you control access to the internet and apps in a detailed fashion.  As with other apps, it includes location tracking with updates on your child’s whereabouts via their mobile device. It only works on iOS and Android devices.
Quick summary on how to use Screen time  function to support your child
An in-depth review of the Monqi phone from Carphone Warehouse
A brief overview of how Boomerang Parental Control can support you and your child
Qustodio works by installing software on each of your devices, on Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, Kindle, and Nook and includes the ability to location track your child and set geographical limits.
This is an app you install on each of your devices that lets you control exactly what your child can do online. You can also track movement and set zones that will alert you if the child leaves them. The app is limited to iOS, Android and Kindle devices.
User-friendly App that can track calls and texts and monitor a range of online activities. There are three subscription plans: Free, Plus, and Premium. The Premium option allows you to access all its features.

More to explore

Here are more resources to help you keep your child safe online

Digital resilience toolkit

block adult content with control guides

Mobile health check tips 

Conversation starter quick guide