People worry about over-sharing location from mobiles, study finds experiments like ‘Please Rob Me’ indicate that what people reveal via location-sharing apps could potentially be harmful to them – and survey finds concerns among users.
More than half of people with geolocation-capable mobile devices worry about “loss of privacy” from using their location-sharing features, a survey has found – even though location-sharing apps such as FourSquare and Gowalla have millions of users checking in every day.
Among UK respondents, 52% said they were “very or extremely concerned” about loss of privacy from using location-sharing applications – even though the same proportion said that they geotag photos, indicating where they were taken, when uploading them to the internet.
The survey, commissioned by security company Webroot, interviewed 1,500 owners of devices with geolocation capabilities, including 624 people in the UK.
Yet other data shows that there are more than 1m lonely hearts now looking for location-based love via an iPhone application, and touching two million users checking-in with Foursquare, sharing whereabouts is the social currency du jour.
But that can be risky, as a trio of developers showed earlier this year, grabbing the headlines when they launched Please Rob Me, a live stream of people sharing their location on Twitter, the site playing on the fact these people were out of their homes. After doing what it set out to do – bring attention to the risk associated with location sharing – the stream was turned off.
Yet FourSquare and Gowalla have continued their upward trajectory of users, investors and commercial partners, such as Dominos Pizza, the Huffington Post, MTV and the Wall Street Journal.
But according to David Bennett, director for Webroot in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, “It’s not about securing the hardware anymore, it’s about securing the person as mobile internet-connected devices become widespread.” He reiterates the challenges associated with attitudes towards publishing personal information online: “If you look over the last year, it takes about a year for people to be educated about putting stuff on Facebook – I think it’ll take that same amount of time for geolocation applications.”
This, Bennett says, gets to the nub of the concern: “A lot of people don’t necessarily know what they do or what the implications are of these services. Of the half that thought there was a problem, how many people know that the pictures they’re taking can be geotagged? Say if you move into a new house, and you say ‘Here’s a picture of my house’, you then take a picture of you and your family on holiday – this is where cybercrime really expands. What’s to stop a certain segment of the marketplace burgling your house? That’s the challenge as we go forward.”
“I think it’s the new version of the telephone directory,” Bennett says of the presence of food chains on Foursquare. “Can you be sure the company you’re interacting with is really the company? That’s one of the biggest challenges. when you rang them up you knew it was them – if it’s online how can you be sure? But that’s the way the business marketplace is going to go – the next generation of bringing people to the doorstep.”
And to the doorstep goods and services will come. Skout is a location-based “social dating application” that connects singletons within metres or miles of your exact location. Last week Skout welcomed both profitability and its one millionth user. But news like this is anathema to the cause of “securing the person”. Bennett continues the refrain: “When you’re online it’s so easy to pretend to be someone you’re not. Everyone’s hidden behind the keyboard if you start going into some of these dating areas.
“There are certain parts of our information that should always be private. It comes down to people understanding what they’re doing.”
Webroot commissioned a survey of 1,645 social network users (including 624 UK-based) who own geolocation-ready mobile devices on June 7 and June 8 2010. - 39% (around 600 of the sample) of mobile device users use location-tracking applications on their mobile phone – 73% of those use a “geo-tracking application” to do so – Of this 73%, more than a quarter used location-based services to share their whereabouts with “strangers” and 14% use them to meet new people – 55% of respondents said they worry over loss of privacy incurred from using geolocation data – One in 11 respondents have used geolocation applications to meet a stranger, either digitally or in person. This is predominantly within the 18-29 age group – 64% have accepted a friend request from a stranger – 41% are “aware or extremely concerned” about letting “potential burglars know when they are not at home” – In the UK, 46% of women are “highly concerned” about “letting a stalker know where they are,” compared to 27% of men – 52% of UK respondents tag their whereabouts in a photograph online – In the past year, 30% of UK respondents have shared their geographical location with “people other than their friends”