How to discretely track iPhone for at-risk relative?
May 31, 2020 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Main requirements are that the method be discrete and persistent (not easily disabled), would prefer other features as well (e.g., see what is on their screen when in use)

I have a relative who has mental disabilities and lately has been displaying some concerning emotions about wanting to run away because they believe they can live independently (I won't get into details here since this isn't the topic of the post, but it is very certain that they cannot live independently based on their disabilities and care needs). This person lives with their legal guardians, and up until this point has not had these types of tendencies, so this is all quite new. We are of course seeking help for this person and attempting to deal with these issues as best we can, but I'm trying to help the guardians install some sort of tracking software on the person's iPhone, just in case of a worst-case scenario. The main requirement is that it always provide access to the phone's location, but additional features would be nice (i.e., able to see what they are doing on their screen, who they are contacting, etc.). Being able to directly see what is on the screen when in-use would be best, as we know the person uses different messaging apps, rather than standard text messages. We know that "find my friends" can be enabled to provide tracking, but the person may catch on that this is enabled and turn it off.

I've done some googling, but there are so many different offers (some of which seem quite expensive), so I'd like to hear anyone's personal recommendations for this type of software.
posted by anonymous to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry I know this must be incredibly stressful. My partner has a grown son who lives with him who seems to share similar characteristics with your relative. There aren't good options, that we've found, that don't require some level of physical access to the device to install or the presumption that you're dealing with younger children. Having Find My iPhone turned on and having the phone's AppleID be something that person doesn't know could work as a simple locator and would be something that is justifiable if that person's phone is paid for by the family. Some of it depends on how tech-savvy and how attentive your relative is. This was helpful to us when his son went on a rambly bus trip all the way to Georgia (from MA) and back. That said, he switched to an Android phone later on and also started showing fewer symptoms so it's been a moot point for us for a while.

You might want to look into something simpler like a Tile tracker that could be attached to something (or somethings) that the person would keep with them. I know these are all tough choices but if your relative has any kind of paranoia, I might try to steer away from anything that would read their supposedly private messages.
posted by jessamyn at 11:56 AM on May 31

Here's a blog that I think will have some good resources for you: Smartphones for All. It's written by a dad who managed smartphone usage by his two sons who have different cognitive disabilities.
posted by lakeroon at 1:14 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

The problem I think you'll face is that these sorts of trackers have been shown just as easily to be used for malicious intent and so the ones fitting your requirements generally been removed from the app store. Sorry, but I don't think what you want is possible, and I fear that people selling stuff like this may not be completely honest about what they're selling.
posted by Aleyn at 1:39 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]

The tracker you might be able to manage, especially if the phone's owner is not the user. The other fun spyware options you want are or should be illegal as they are very obviously tools of abuse and control, and if they are/were generally available to people, through licit or illicit channels, they are or would be used as such.

Affirming their freedom of (virtual) association and some measure of privacy might be helpful in reconciling this person to their permanent loss of physical freedoms. there is a difference between living independently and living alone without carers. if this person has the capacity for some mental independence and online communication, stifling it and spying on it will not stifle their desire to escape; it will inflame it. This all makes some sense if these are last-ditch desperate measures to try to avoid involuntarily committing this person. If not, they don't.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:10 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]

My suggestion is to turn on Find My iPhone (if parents have access to apple id) and/or find my friends and then (1) don't use it unless there is significant cause for concern and (2) don't let the person realize that that is how you have the information unless it is truly an emergency. (In other words, you might check their location if they are out past midnight but not act on that if you find out they are at a friend's house.)

Second, they don't have to run away to be independent. I would suggest that the guardians change their stance to show respect for the person's desire to be live independently. It is a normal desire for many adults, even those who may not have the capacity to do in the usual way. If I were the guardians, instead of saying "absolutely not" I would say "I want you to be as independent as possible while still be safe and keeping healthy. If we can make a plan that seems like it is safe and practical, I will support you. Talk with them about what they imagine it would be like to be independent and about what skills and resources they need to make it happen. See if the person would be interested in learning some skills and/or demonstrating that they can do it. At the same time, see if there are ways they can increase the person's independence in a meaningful way without them having to move out. Sometimes people get in the habit of being in the parental role and it is hard for them to step back, especially when the dependent fumbles. The idea is to step back but not all the way back and see if the person is able to step forward more.
posted by metahawk at 7:34 PM on May 31 [7 favorites]

I use Life360 to passively track my parents. It runs in the background and doesn’t require any permissions unless their battery reaches critically low—at that point usually low power mode stops it transmitting to you. But it also sends you an alert when your person needs to charge their phone—I use that to stave off deactivation.
posted by assenav at 8:24 PM on May 31

Google lets you share your real-time location with others. For example my partner likes to look in at where his mom is occasionally. Here's how to set it up.
posted by teststrip at 4:01 AM on June 1

Start with Find My, definitely. Also consider working with a mediator if it’s a truly challenging conversation to have, and you feel like it warrants an intervention.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:24 AM on June 1

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