Best Practices: When to Enable Location Services

My mom just upgraded from a flip phone to an iPhone 5. Gulp. While an iPhone 5 sounds vintage, it is brand new to a mom who still signs her text messages “Love, Mom.”

I helped her set up her voicemail, taught her how to answer and decline calls, and explained why Safari is the internet. I wasn’t expecting her to ask me the next question, at least for a long time: Should I enable Location Services? She caught on quickly and in answering her, I questioned my own thought process for when to enable GPS. I thought I’d share some discoveries.

Functionality vs. Paranoia

Some people are very sensitive to whom is tracking their every move. In this day and age, if you are on the extreme-side of caution, than you should ask my mom for her old flip phone – save yourself a ton of money. However, if you rely on technology even in the slightest for directions, traffic, or weather, you must have your location GPS services enabled.

There are several ways to control which apps access your location and when. Here are some tips for iOS users, specifically the iPhone, but a lot of these features are available for other smartphones, as well.

Settings > Privacy > Location Services

On iOS devices, you can go to your settings and completely turn On or Off your Location Services. If you turn these Off, the Location Services will be disabled for all apps. (Note: If you  If you turn these On, then you have the ability to personalize your Location Services settings per app.


When you set apps to “Always” access your Location Services, it means they will continuously try to locate you. There are few apps that need to know where you are at all times. This will drain your battery, especially if you are on the move – driving, cycling, running, or walking.

Some Apps to Set to Always: If you find yourself wanting a lot of data specific to your current location, such as directions, weather, or shopping and dining recommendations, you should consider having your Google Maps, Accuweather, and Yelp apps switched to Always.

While Using

This is a new option in iOS 11, which is very helpful. Before it was either On or Off. The “While Using” selection will save your battery and curb some of your anxiety about privacy. However, if you leave the app open (you’ll see the GPS arrow in the upper righthand corner on the iPhone) these apps are tracking your location.

Some Apps to Set to While Using: It’s quite useful to have Location Services on when you are adding events to your Calendar, so you can include an address for directions and even weather. Activity tracking apps, such as Strava, Map My Ride/Run, and others, require Location Services to track your distance. You can turn on privacy modes so your location and activity aren’t shared with the community. If you want to track where you take pictures, you should also have this on for your Camera and Instagram. If you want to tag yourself at a restaurant, amusement park or other place, you’ll need your Location Services for the social app or Safari. There are so many apps now for carry out restaurants, such as Chik-fil-a, that require you to have your location services on so they can determine when you get close to start cooking your food.


This means that these apps will not be able to access your location. You wouldn’t think there are apps that don’t need your location, but that’s false.

Some Apps to Set to Never: The App Store, note-keeping apps like Google Keep, Messages, Facebook Messenger, Shazam, and Wallet are just a few that aren’t necessary to have turned on.

What is “Share My Location”? 

If you are on a Family Share plan, this is a very neat feature that allows you to share where you are in the Find My Friends or the Messages app. You can even help family members locate their missing devices in Find My iPhone. You can also send your location to friends, family, or other contacts via text message. However, you should be very mindful of when to turn this on and off, and for how long, especially if you’re concerned about your privacy.

When to Share Your Location

  • If you are meeting family or friends at a public place, like the movies or a restaurant. Send them your location and they can track your ETA whether early, late, or right on time.
  • Be considerate of your loved ones while they are driving or in a meeting. If you see that they are traveling or at the office, then it’s probably not a good time to call. Wait until they have arrived to their destination.
  • It’s perfect for your young children who have an iPhone to make sure they are safe and where they should be. If you are concerned about their privacy, Apple has a policy to only store location data on servers in an encrypted format for only two hours before it is deleted.
  • Don’t get lost at the park trying to search for the right entrance to the company picnic or birthday party.

Don’t Share Your Location When…

  • Indoors. The GPS signal is not the greatest inside, like a shopping mall.
  • It’s also not strong in national parks. Turn off your Location Services when there’s no cell reception to avoid your battery being drained.
  • Parents should be very careful with their children sharing their location. There are security settings on the iPhone that parents can set to prohibit your child from changing settings or adding followers inside Find My Friends.
  • Be intentional with your sharing by only sharing it to specific people. And avoid sharing your location publicly, including publishing it on Twitter or Facebook.
  • Be smart.

Here are some other helpful tips. Now to prepare my mom for purchasing her first Apple Watch.


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