The app is a major source of raw location data for a multibillion-dollar industry that buys, packages, and sells people’s movements
By: Jon Keegan and Alfred Ng
December 6, 2021
Life360, a popular family safety app used by 33 million people worldwide, has been marketed as a great way for parents to track their children’s movements using their cellphones. The Markup has learned, however, 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 wants to buy 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.
“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.