Life360 founder and CEO Chris Hulls told us that millions of users had opted out of having their data sold.
“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,” he said in a written statement.
Even so, Life360 is not profitable, reporting a loss of $16.3 million last year
. And it has been on an acquisition spree. In 2019, it purchased ZenScreen
, a family screen-time monitoring app. In April, it purchased the wearable location device company Jiobit, aimed at tracking younger children, pets, and seniors
, for $37 million. And on Nov. 22, Life360 announced plans to buy Tile
, a tracking device company that helps find lost items. Hulls said the company doesn’t have plans to sell data from Tile devices, Jiobit devices, or its digital safety services.
But the data that Life360 sells from its family safety app is one of the largest sources of data for the location data industry, according to four former employees of Life360 and its partners. They spoke with The Markup on the condition that we not use their names because they were still employed in the industry. (The Markup has a strict policy of only allowing anonymity for sources who could face retribution
for speaking with us.)
They told us that Life360 can share location data within 20 minutes of being collected, and it can be shared “raw” rather than the industry best practice of “hashed” to ensure that it cannot be traced back to an individual user.
“Some of our data partners receive hashed data and some do not based on how the data will be used,” Hulls told The Markup. He confirmed the speed at which data is sometimes shared and said for the most part Life360 relies on contractual obligations that prohibit its customers from re-identifying individual users.
Similarly, Hulls said that Life360 recently instituted a policy prohibiting its customers from selling or marketing Life360’s data to any government agencies to be used for law enforcement purposes but does not have technical measures to prevent the practice.
“From a philosophical standpoint, we do not believe it is appropriate for government agencies to attempt to obtain data in the commercial market as a way to bypass an individual’s right to due process,” Hulls said. However, he acknowledged that it was a challenge to monitor partners’ activities for compliance with the policy.
And that is ultimately the problem with the data location tracking industry. Apps collect extremely sensitive data—researchers have shown that just four unique location data points can identify 95 percent of individuals
—and then sell it to data brokers, who can then sell it to whomever they want. There are no laws in the U.S. governing the sale of this sensitive data.
We plan to keep investigating the apps and data brokers that buy and sell your movements. If you have any insights to share about the location data tracking industry, please send them along to Jon Keegan at email@example.com
As always, thanks for reading.