Experts in digital safety
The world has fast moved on from a knock on a friend’s door, or a quick landline call to check who’s home. Technology has made meeting up with our nearest and dearest so much easier – one quick text, one quick location ping, and we know exactly where they are. So why not go one better with Zenly, the social app that tracks exactly where your friends are? It’s fun, fresh, and dynamic, and it’s attracting a huge number of young users, but under its brightly colored surface, is Zenly safe?
What is Zenly?
Zenly is a map application allowing users to socially share where they are, making it easier to meet up with friends or family. On Zenly, you can:
- Share your real-time location
- Track places you’ve been and share them on your public profile
- Check in at places with friends who are using Zenly
- Send friends in-app messages
- Send videos or photos to friends
How does Zenly work?
Once you’ve downloaded Zenly, all you have to do is create an account and add friends. They can be added from your contacts, or from your Snapchat account. With permission, you’ll then be able to start sharing your location and let your friends in on where you are. The GPS works in the background, no matter the time or place. In fact, Zenly even tracks online inactivity to inform friends whether you’re sleeping or not.
As you travel, Zenly tracks the places you’ve been, making them brighter on the map – almost like a heat map that shows the locations you’ve “uncovered”.
How old do you have to be to use Zenly?
Zenly’s terms of service state that users have to be over 13 to create an account, as is the case for most social media applications – even those designed with younger generations in mind, like Yubo. Despite this, no age verification is required at any point. Users only need to verify their phone number to get started.
Is Zenly safe for kids?
Surprisingly, for a live location sharing app, Zenly is pretty good about keeping things private. To track people’s location in the app, you have to first be friends. In order to add a new friend, you have to send a request first, so it’s not possible to follow an account without the user knowing about it.
However, there are a few features which might make Zenly a concern for younger users:
1. Your world
Zenly’s Your world feature is a public map showing all the places you’ve been, including:
- The top places you frequently visit
- Places you’ve recently been to
- The last places you checked in
On the public map, “heat” spots are visible, meaning you can see the parts of the map that any user sharing their world has uncovered so far. It won’t show an accurate location, but it’s enough to show most frequented spots, and publicly display the overall area (like a town or region) that you’ve been in most recently.
Fortunately, Your world is optional, and doesn’t have to be shared on your profile. The “downside” is that if you don’t use the feature, you can’t view any other users’ worlds, and you can’t use Zenly’s check-in feature to save favorite places or show where you’ve been with friends. Younger users who enjoy this social side of the app may find it difficult to not be part of Your world.
2. Listing of public profiles
While Zenly friend lists are mostly designed to be made up of real-life friends, from contacts, it’s possible to add strangers in the app. By clicking on a location on the map, you can see a list of the people who spend the most time there, and see their profile with the option to send a friend request.
On Zenly, when you invite a friend from your contacts and they join the app, you get something called Pops. The more friends you invite, the more Pops you get. With higher numbers, users can be featured on a worldwide leaderboard, meaning their profile could be more easily accessed.
While designed to prioritize real-life friends, as you get them from adding contacts in your address book, Pops could become competitive. Zenly’s use of a collection feature, with a visible ranking, might encourage kids to chase more Snap contacts or phone numbers in order to collect more Pops.
Zenly pros and cons for kids
While we’ve highlighted some of Zenly’s more concerning features, there are some positive sides to be found, particularly for teenagers who spend more time out of the house. One obvious plus is that Zenly shows kids where their friends are, making it much more simple for them to meet up and be sociable together.
Because Zenly tracks real-time location, friends can easily check up on each other once they’ve left their meeting place. With a social map app, there’s no need for “text me when you get home”. Friends can see where your child has gone when they leave a location, and check if they’re back at the house. This location feature could also be useful for concerned parents and guardians to keep tabs on family members, without having to constantly check in during the day.
For younger children who shouldn’t have access to social apps like Zenly, digital wellbeing features like Qustodio Family Locator can help parents and guardians to keep an eye on kids as they travel from A to B. Unlike Zenly, Qustodio also offers a Panic Button feature, which is useful for parents of teens and younger kids alike, as it alerts trusted contacts when children feel they are in danger.
To make Zenly safer for kids, we’d suggest:
- Not using the Your world feature
- Enabling Ghost mode, which allows them to blur or freeze their real-time location for certain friends
- Making their profile private, by heading to Settings > Privacy settings > toggling Private mode on.
If your child wants to enjoy Zenly, we’d strongly recommend using it as a family, rather than allowing them free reign. Make sure they understand the risks of sharing their location with anyone outside of their direct friendship group, and stress the importance of location trackers only as a means to meet up with friends, and update others on where they are. By doing this, we’re sure you and your teen will get the most out of social mapping together!