Image: Life360

Tile buyer Life360 sells precise location data on millions of users

Image: Life360

According to a new report provided by The Markup, location monitoring firm Life360 has been selling the precise location data of tens of millions of its users.

Life360 advertises itself as a “family safety platform” programme that allows family members to keep track on one another via smartphone tracking software. There are Android and iPhone apps available.

Life360’s software is used by 33 million individuals worldwide, and it appears that the company is selling location data from both children and adults to a dozen data brokers, who then sell the information to other third parties. Life360 is one of the largest data sources in the industry, according to two former Life360 employees, who are concerned about how the data is utilised and the lack of protections to avoid exploitation.

According to the staff, Life360 does not take efforts to ensure that location history can’t be linked to specific people. To protect privacy, Life360 removes the most obvious user identifying information, but it does not aggregate data or reduce precision.

According to Life360 CEO Chris Hulls, data is a “important part of the business model” that allows Life360 to offer its core services 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.”

Because of the “sheer amount and precision of the data,” an engineer with X-Mode, a location data supplier, claimed the raw location data obtained from Life360 was one of the company’s “most valued services.”

Data from Life360 has been sold to companies including X-Mode, Cuebiq, Arity, Safegraph, and others who supply location data to other services. In its privacy policy, Life360 lists some of the companies with whom it shares data, but it does not publish all of them.

Data partners are only publicly disclosed when partners request transparency or there’s “a particular reason to do so,” Hulls said. He did confirm that X-Mode buys data from Life360 and that it is one of “approximately one dozen data partners.” Hulls added that the company would be supportive of legislation that would require public disclosure of such partners.

Some of the data providers rely solely on Life360’s aggregated location data. Cuebiq, for example, worked with the CDC to track COVID-19 “mobility trends” using aggregated data. The Life360 data was given to the US Department of Defense by X-Mode, and it was also sent to the CDC by SafeGraph.

Although Life360 makes it obvious that data is sold in the fine print of their privacy policy, users may not be aware of how the data is spread after it is given to data brokers.

“You can watch where your kids are, and anyone who buys this information can watch where your kids are,” Duke Tech Policy Lab fellow Justin Sherman told The Markup. There is also an opt-out option, however it is possible that not all users are aware of it.

Life360 is a tracking tool largely used by parents to keep track on their children and teenagers, and its intrusiveness has prompted privacy issues. Life360 has said that it does not disclose location data from users under the age of 13, but it does share data from children above the age of 13 and adults.

Life360 has agreed to buy Tile, a business that develops Bluetooth-based trackers that compete with Apple’s AirTags, for $205 million. With the Tile purchase, Life360 claims that it will be able to provide a “all-encompassing solution” for locating pets, people, and things, which is concerning given the privacy concerns mentioned in today’s study.