For anecdotal evidence that many smartphone users are a little freaked out about sharing their locations via their mobile devices, look no further than the reaction to the the recent confirmation that iPhones and iPads record a user's every location in unencrypted files stored for up to a year.
While those who own the well-designed status devices waffled between Skynet jokes and genuine concern, government representatives wrote pointed open letters to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and privacy advocates took the opportunity to tell you they told you so. And, turns out, Google does it too. Both Apple and Google phones regularly transmit location data to the companies as the two tech giants build databases that could help them tap a market for location-based services, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing data and documents it had analyzed.
Sure, there are those in the vocal, "I don't care, I've got nothing to hide," Internet comment camps. What's more, many tech and privacy experts point out that tracking and recording user locations common practice, and if you read the (really) fine print (written in dense legalese) you'd know that. Duh.
But a timely survey from The Nielsen Company that coincides with the Apple kerfuffle reveals that mobile app users are wary of sharing their locations:
According to The Nielsen Company’s latest research on mobile applications, most mobile app downloaders, which Nielsen defines as those mobile subscribers who have downloaded an application in the past 30 days, are concerned about privacy when it comes to sharing their location via mobile phone. This concern is more pronounced among women app downloaders, with 59 percent reporting they have privacy concerns compared to 52 percent of male app downloaders.
Age is a factor as well. Mobile app downloaders between the ages of 25-34 were the least likely to have privacy concerns. Privacy concerns were considerably higher among those over the age of 45.
The Nielsen report goes on to say that consumers will grow more comfortable with location-based mobile applications as marketers earn their trust and better understand what consumers want in exchange for this personal information.
In a post addressing the Apple revelation, the ACLU DotRights blog addressed the need for consumer trust.:
If users don't trust your service, or if regulators or the press get wind of privacy violations, the consequences can range from fines and lawsuits to the death of your product entirely. (Just ask Google how Buzz worked out for them.) Yet initial reports suggest that Apple appears to be recording your location without any kind of notice or control.
Buzz aside, there seems to be a disconnect between what we say we believe about our privacy (including what respondents may tell Nieslen) and what we actually do.
More than a few mobile app users can see themselves in Larry Digna's ZDNet piece, "Your iPhone, iPad recording your every move? So":
Naturally, this find will create a good bit of hubbub. I’m trying to keep myself from yawning.
Why? People allow their every move to be tracked anyway—willingly.
I happen to have GPS set up on my Android device. I have no idea what Google is keeping on me. Cue up the “Dignan you idiot” talkbacks.
I also know that a friend happened to be at Grand Central Station this morning because he checked in on FourSquare and it was blasted to his Twitter feed.
Folks use Google Latitude.
MobileMe tracks you too.
OK, I know that there’s a small opt-in issue here. But most Apple fans would opt in anyway. Let’s face it, Apple isn’t your average company. Most of you will like this tracking idea and scream: Track me Steve Jobs. Please!
Info offered in the ACLU DotRights guide Location-Based Services: Time for a Privacy Check-In, not so much:
Outdated privacy laws and varying corporate practices could mean that sensitive information about who you are, where you go, what you do, and who you know end up being shared, sold, or turned over to the government.
What do you think? Do does our behavior with location-based services match our concern? Let us know.
More on mobile phones and location tracking:
- iPhones, Android phones send user data back to companies
- Government officials want answers to secret iPhone tracking
- How to disable your iPhone's creepy tracking feature