Your Location Has Been Shared 5,398 Times! A Field Study on Mobile App Privacy Nudging
It’s little surprise that mobile apps regularly access our location data. In many cases, it’s a sensible deal. Maps, weather apps, social networks, and shopping services serve up useful info based on where we are. But while everyone understands the intrinsic privacy trade-off, few may realize just how often apps ping their location. According to a Carnegie Mellon study, it happens thousands of times a week.
That study, by the university’s Institute for Software Research, followed 23 Android phone owners for three weeks. In the first week, they were asked to use their apps as they normally would. In the second week, the participants used an app called App Ops to monitor and manage the data those apps were using. In the third week, the research team introduced a “privacy nudge” alert that would ping the participants each time an app requested location data.
The title of the study, which will be presented at a conference in Seoul next month, tells you all you need to know: Your Location Has Been Shared 5,398 Times! A Field Study on Mobile App Privacy Nudging. (Link to PDF)
That’s right. More than 5,000 pings in 14 days. Once participants in the study knew how frequently data was being collected, many adjusted their settings or deleted some apps entirely.
But Professor Norman Sadeh, a member of the research team that conducted the research, says the volume of location-harvesting isn’t the biggest issue.
“These are very rare cases, but some of them want to get your microphone data, your contact list data, and it’s really sensitive data at that point,” Hong says. “Right now, Android will tell you if an app uses location data, but what we do in our analysis is to say this app uses location data for X, where X might be social networking or advertising or analytics.”