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Ask a User: How Does Wi-Fi Improve My Family’s Location Accuracy?

 

Why Does Life360 Ask Me To Turn on Wi-Fi?

You may have received a push notification from Life360 telling you that your friend or family-member arrived at home or work, but telling you that to improve their location accuracy, they should turn on Wi-Fi.  That’s strange, isn’t it?  What does Wi-Fi have to do with location?  Well, plenty, actually.

 

How Wi-Fi improves location accuracy

Both Apple (for iPhones) and Google (for Android) keep databases that tell them that a given Wi-Fi network is at a given location.  So if your phone can “see” that network, then you must be very close to that location.  This is a basic part of your phone’s location services.  Life360 does not keep this database, nor do we even know which networks you’re near — Google and Apple handle that for us, all we get is an improved location.

Being able to see what Wi-Fi networks are close by also helps tell your phone when it is in motion — if it starts seeing a constantly changing list of networks, it follows that it’s moving, and it can then turn on other location services (such as GPS) to get an accurate fix on your location.

To get a sense of how much Wi-Fi can improve location accuracy, picture a city. With Wi-Fi off, the location size is 5 or more city blocks. With Wi-Fi on, the location size is a store. Typical accuracy with Wi-Fi off is around 1.5 km, while with Wi-Fi on it’s 65m.

 

I don’t want to connect to strange networks!

Don’t worry, you don’t need to connect to any network in order to get this improved location accuracy. Your phone will get much better locations even if you never connect to any Wi-Fi network ever! You just need to have Wi-Fi turned on. This is because wifi networks broadcast their presence freely — your phone can tell it’s near a wifi network without that network ever knowing about your phone or getting any information from it.

 

I’m worried about battery drain

The battery drain of having wifi turned on is minimal.  Because your phone is not exchanging any data with the networks it “sees,” it uses very little battery.  In fact, in some cases you may save battery by getting a very accurate location using wifi instead of GPS, because GPS uses more battery than Wi-Fi.

 

How about privacy?

The Wi-Fi networks that you are nearby learn nothing about your phone just by your turning on Wi-Fi.  You would have to actually connect to the networks for them to discover your phone, and that is not necessary for the improved location experience.  Your phone will never connect to a new network without your specific action.

Life360 gets only one piece of information from wifi location:  better location.  We do not see which networks you are near or any network traffic from networks you are connected to.  The only information you give us is more accurate, better location.

 

How do I turn my device’s Wi-Fi on?

iPhone

Android

 

Submit your Questions

Have a question for our next Ask a User segment, send it to Community@Life360.com for a chance to be featured in next month’s post?

 

 

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