Digital Divorce Part 2: Apple’s Latest iMessage Feature, “Check In”
By Snyder Sarno D'Aniello Maceri da Costa LLC on July 18, 2023
Is Apple’s Latest iMessage feature, “Check In” the solution needed to resolve the double edge sword of tracking our children’s location after a divorce?
In the first part of this blog post, Digital Divorce Part 1: Cutting Digital Ties, we discussed the importance of assessing all the digital ties between you and your partner that leave you vulnerable to being tracked and stalked during and after your relationship ends. However, after removing all digital connections so your partner is no longer aware of your location and movements throughout the day, those left in co-parenting situations remain vulnerable to being tracked but now under the guise of child safety. A divorced couple can stop sharing an iCloud account and stop sharing their location indefinitely with each other (See Digital Divorce Part 1: Cutting Digital Ties for common ways that couples are digitally tied to each other); however, parents often choose to monitor their children's location to ensure they are safe when they are not currently with them. Whether through Find My Friends on the iPhone, kid-friendly smart watches, or placing AirTags on children's backpacks, the child may be continuously tracked by their parents if the device remains with them. What this means for separated parties is that when parenting time splits and co-parenting time commences, ex-partners can track one another through their children if their devices remain with them.
Many parents are left facing a tough dilemma, stop tracking their child despite having safety concerns about where they are but removing the possibility of a co-parent abusing a tracking device to monitor them. Or continue tracking your shared children’s locations but expose yourself to being watched. This dilemma often ends in the same way; parents are unwilling to give up keeping an eye on their children despite the real dangers some ex-partners face in having their location known. However, Apple's latest tracking method, the Check-In feature, which one can expect to be available in the next software update, provides the hope of a middle ground. (See Apple, Newsroom (2023, June 6). IOS 17 Makes iPhone More Personal and Intuitive [Press release].
On June 06, 2023, Apple had a press release for their upcoming IOS 17 update to the Apple product line. As with most updates Apple has launched for its products in the past few years, it announced that the IOS 17 update would have a new safety feature revolving around tracking one's location. Apple's new Check-In feature in its iMessage would allow users to start a tracking session that notifies a family member or friend that they safely made it to a destination upon the user's arrival. The user would initiate the Check-In, and upon arriving at a set destination, the family member is automatically notified, no longer waiting for the text messages that they made it safely. Additionally, suppose the user seems to stop moving toward the set destination. In that case, Apple will send the family member additional information, including the device's specific location, the route the phone is taking, how much battery the phone has left, and if the device currently has cell service and how many bars. (See Gendron, Will. Parents Are Going To Love The New “Check In” Feature in Apple’s IOS 17, Buinessinsider.Com, 5 June 2023.) If the user needs to take a detour from the planned trip, they can update the arrival time so a family member or friend is notified of why they changed their route.
While the Check-In feature is just another way, like the Find My Friends and Find My iPhone features, to track a user's location, which has been great to ease the mind of worried parents now knowing where their children are. The Check-In feature might be the answer to those parents who are going through a separation or in life after a divorce and are asked to weigh their concerns with the safety of their children against knowing that their co-parents can abuse past features such as Find My iPhone and Find My Friends to keep track of them under the guise of child safety.
While tracking a spouse's location is often circumvented in family law by focusing on a shared child's location while with the other parent, the Check-In feature would be hard to abuse by a partner. The Check-In feature starts running with the child's phone; thus, starting tracking or viewing one's location cannot be circumvented by logging on to a shared account like iCloud and Find My iPhone. Therefore, when the child and, consequently, the phone to initiate the tracking period is out of their physical control during the other parent's parenting time, the location cannot be shared without the other parent or child knowing. Additionally, unlike Find My Friends, which you can set for sharing a phone's location indefinitely and subsequently forgetting about it. The Check-In feature makes the user aware that their location is actively being shared and only for the planned trip and ends without remembering to take an active step. Unlike Apple's past features, Check-In does not track one's location continuously or indefinitely. Instead, the Check-In feature is built to monitor a user's location while in transit, providing the information you want the most from the perspective of ensuring your loved one's safety. Such information relayed to the chosen party may include the route the user takes to get to their destination, the time until they arrive, whether they have enough phone power to survive the trip, if they seem to be changing course and are delayed, and the trip ending (See Raemont, Nina. Updates Are Coming to Apple’s Messages. Here’s What to Expect. CNET.Com, 24 June 2023.) The Check-In feature would allow parents to track their children for genuine safety concerns without giving up their freedom of being tracked by ex-partners for indefinite periods that occur with Find My iPhone and Find My Friends on their children's phones.
Regarding the relationship between two adults, unwanted monitoring by an ex-partner and notably overlooked monitoring by a current partner can result in a Stalking charge under New Jersey Stalking Law. While Stalking is defined to include a pattern of behavior of one monitoring and surveilling another person, a situation premised purely on tracking one's location is complicated by the requirement that it must result in a certain level of emotional distress or that a reasonable person would fear their safety as a result of such monitoring. Thus, an ex-spouse's ulterior motives can be masked by tracking any shared children's location, claiming it is for the child's safety.
Tracking one's location is a hard-to-navigate legal area, compounded in family law, made worse by the technological advancements we see every time Apple releases a new software update. However, Apple's new Check-In feature presents a solution rather than a complication; thus, it is vital to consider how it might affect your family's situation.
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