Privacy May Suffer in Google’s ‘I’m Safe’ App


 

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The Oakland concert fire and Hurricane Matthew are only the two most recent tragedies that remind us of the importance of emergency preparedness. With the release of Alphabet Inc.’s Google’s new application called “Trusted Contacts,” users’ are able to have loved ones find them in an emergency by sharing their geolocation information with designated friends and family.

The app joins Facebook Inc.’s Safety Check feature in attempting to update the old emergency card for the connected era. Though Safety Check allows people to people to post on Facebook they are safe when they are located in disaster areas, Trusted Contacts goes further and allows the contacts to track and initiate contact with person who may be caught in an emergency situation, or walking home late at night.

“To help you feel safe and give your friends and family peace of mind, today we’re launching Trusted Contacts. This new personal safety app lets you share your location with loved ones in everyday situations and when emergencies arise—even if your phone is offline or you can’t get to it,” Google wrote in its blog.

Trusted Contacts allows users to designate up to 50 people as “trusted” status in the app. Those people can then see whether the user’s phone has been getting reception, or whether they’ve been moving around. It shows a broad overview of the user’s activity, but not the exact location. However, if the user has been offline for a while, emergency contacts can request to see their location, which can either be approved or denied. If the user doesn’t respond to the request within five minutes, the app will send the person the user’s location, or if the phone is offline, the user’s last known whereabouts.  

Despite the obvious privacy concerns involved in one of your trusted contacts being able to see your location if you don’t respond to the request, Google said it’s necessary since people aren’t always able to access their phones in an emergency. 

Google did address some privacy concerns, however, by making Trusted Contacts so that it doesn’t automatically share users’ location. Users may also remove contacts from the trusted designation and also stop sharing activity whenever they want.

Trusted Contacts is currently only available on Android.

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