Examining the Pattern: Location Services

Smartphones applications can use location services for their functionality. Locations can be used for Google Maps, Facebook or Instagram.


Before discussing location services, I want to tell an anecdote. Ever since I had my first smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy Ace, there has been the option to use my location as part of my services. My location will often be used in mobile phone applications such as Google Maps, Facebook or Instagram.

I must admit the inner anti-establishment side of me at an early age liked his privacy. I would always give incorrect contact information when registering a new account for social media profiles as to become “off the radar”.

Looking back at it, I was very self-centered to assume Facebook or Google would care about the credentials I hand over. I am sure, based on my activity they could tell I was not a 73-year-old grandmother from San Francisco.

Regardless, I explored the benefits of using location in mobile applications, and over the next half a decade it became second nature for anyone to share his or her current location in his or her posts and content.

We quickly excelled from an age where very few people shared their confidential information. With the implementation of social media, people were now excited to share exactly where they were, or with live streaming, where they are located.

Moreover, so enters the first case study use of location.

Location Services - Google Maps

Let’s just get the obvious one out of the way. Google Maps may be the best use case of location services that will exist. Instead of searching on a map for your current location either via search bar or geographically on a map, you can now tap a ‘locate’ button that will pin point your exact location.

Google maps positively use your location, the information is not used in any malicious way or publicly shared with anyone. As far as I am aware, your information is not used for profit, although I can see it being used to target local advertisements or businesses nearby to your current location.

Location Services - Instagram Posts

Instagram posts allow for location tags to be included upon upload. The tagging system will search for locations nearby when the upload process has begun; you can select from the generated list or search for a location if not provided.

Being able to tag your photographs helps to sort and categorise the images on a per location basis. Tags help others find photographs related to the current location and serve as a reminder to the photographer of the original photograph to the location in which the photograph was taken.

Location Services - Facebook Live

Facebook live takes location services a step further. You are now no longer using your current location to complete a process or organise information.

Sharing your current location via live streaming can be a useful tool when advertising an event, sharing content and information instantly or for connecting with your audience in a more authentic experience.

There are risks to this use case. Sharing your current location live across the world can open yourself to attacks from members of the public, whether it be in the form of a crime such as theft, or someone verbally abusing the live stream due to a grudge.

The possibilities are open ended. Whether the possibilities are positive or negative are uncertain.

Android Trusted Places

The use case of trusted places on Android devices is what sparked the creation of this blog post. I was at home relaxing with my friends when I had a notification on my Android device that I use for both personal and work tasks.

The notification informed me that I could add “trusted places” such as my home, route to work and workplace. Depending on what I added these trusted places as would result in different features becoming enabled.

The one that I found most exciting is the trusted home feature. By enabling the feature, I can unlock my phone for extended periods of time when within 80 meters of my home. This results in having to unlock my phone less frequently when I am at home and speeding up the average user journey for tasks.

When I have left my house, my phone will automatically lock itself regardless of how long it has been unlocked. Keeping my phone secure when on the go and speeding up my personal life when at home.

Location Services - Snapchat Locations

Snapchat locations may be what I had always feared as a young tech enthusiast. My friends can check exactly where I am using information from my last Snapchat sent.

The Snapchat location feature is an opt-in feature and not enforced by default. I think that should be a given; nobody should be sharing his or her location to the world by default.

Snapchat have recently gone under backlash from blogs such as Sky's title "Snapchat's 'creepy' location sharing prompts schools' warnings" for this new feature as expected.

Even though I may bash on the feature, and I would never use it myself. I did find it interesting that there are heat maps of locations with high frequencies of Snapchats being sent. Once again it is a great way to show where popular events are being held but could be used negatively.


In this post, I have covered five applications, majority mobile, with the aim to conclude if a location service is a positive or dark design pattern.

The simple answer is that as with anything else, it is very situational.

Location services can be a positive design pattern, Google Maps and Android Trusted Places show that they can speed up a process for a user and add value to users lives.

On the flip side live streaming and live updates of a user's current location do not guarantee negative consequences but open up the possibilities for negative actions as a result.

Using locations in your design product

To remove the unclear decision on whether or not a design should include location services, I have put together three questions you should ask yourself during the design process.

  1. Are your target demographic likely to use location services?
  2. Will location services be used to speed up a common process?
  3. Can the user's location service be used maliciously?