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New Tile Parent Company Life360 Has Been Selling Precise Location of Tens of Millions of Users

New Tile Parent Company Life360 Has Been Selling Precise Location of Tens of Millions of Users

A new report shared by The Markup says location tracking service Life360 has been selling the precise location data of tens of millions of its users. Life360 recently announced that it is acquiring Bluetooth tracker maker Tile for $205 million. Tile’s tracker competes head-to-head with Apple’s AirPods.

Life360 is a popular family safety app used by 33 million people worldwide, has been marketed as a “family safety platform” that allows parents to track their children’s movements using their cellphones. The service is available for both Android and iPhone devices.

However, the Markup has learned that the app is selling data on kids’ and families’ whereabouts to approximately a dozen data brokers who have sold data to virtually anyone who is willing to pay for it.

Through interviews with two former employees of the company, along with two individuals who formerly worked at location data brokers Cuebiq and X-Mode, The Markup discovered that the app acts as a firehose of data for a controversial industry that has operated in the shadows with few safeguards to prevent the misuse of this sensitive information. The former employees spoke with The Markup on the condition that we not use their names, as they are all still employed in the data industry. They said they agreed to talk because of concerns with the location data industry’s security and privacy and a desire to shed more light on the opaque location data economy. All of them described Life360 as one of the largest sources of data for the industry. 

The employees said that Life360 does not take precautions to ensure that location histories cannot be traced back to individuals. While the most obvious user identifying information is removed, the company does not aggregate data or reduce precision to preserve privacy.

Life360 CEO Chris Hulls told The Markup that data is an “important part of the business model” that allows Life360’s core services to be offered for free.

“We have no means to confirm or deny the accuracy” of whether Life360 is among the largest sources of data for the industry, Life360 founder and CEO Chris Hulls said in an emailed response to questions from The Markup. “We see data as an important part of our business model that allows us to keep the core Life360 services free for the majority of our users, including features that have improved driver safety and saved numerous lives.”

A former X-Mode engineer said the raw location data the company received from Life360 was among X-Mode’s most valuable offerings due to the sheer volume and precision of the data. A former Cuebiq employee joked that the company wouldn’t be able to run its marketing campaigns without Life360’s constant flow of location data.

While Life360 does inform users in the fine print of its privacy policy that data is sold, many folks may not be aware of how the data is distributed after it’s provided to data brokers. “Families probably would not like the slogan, ‘You can watch where your kids are, and so can anyone who buys this information,'” Duke Tech Policy Lab fellow Justin Sherman told The Markup. While there is also an opt-out feature, not all users may be aware of it.

For more information about Life360’s user tracking and how the data is used, read The Markup‘s full report.