Conventional wisdom holds that smartphone users will tolerate diluted privacy — specifically, privacy of their own location — in return for the many advantages delivered by the location-based services on their devices. This conventional wisdom, I put it to you, has been disseminated over the years by conventional wise men, that is, those selling the services and the devices. Users themselves have not, in the full awareness of their situation, been sounded or heard from. Now murmurs bubble to the surface.
Five researchers at Rutgers University recently published a paper, “A Field Study of Run-Time Location Access Disclosures on Android Smartphones,” based on work supported by the National Science Foundation. The paper describes how they created an application to inform users which other apps are mining their GPS location data, and then asked users how they felt about this.
Participants took various actions to manage their privacy. These included uninstalling apps, stopping the use of some apps, reducing the time using some apps, and searching through apps’ setups to disable location accesses.
“[They] appreciated the transparency brought by our run-time disclosure method,” the researchers state. “They wanted to continue receiving the notifications after completing the study. Most participants reported having trade-offs between location privacy and the convenience of using their apps. We observed that some participants would rather give up the convenience to protect their location privacy.”
First, the researchers had to figure out how to provide the information to project participants; in other words, how to let them know who was watching them and tracking their movements?
“[Although] there is no obvious way for a normal Android app to monitor whether other apps are accessing location, we discovered we could exploit the method getLastKnownLocation available in the Android Location API for this purpose.”
Participants — those in the know, at least — described the study as “an eye opener.” In one of the most telling details, delivered in the paper’s last sentence, we find out why. The study encompassed two groups: one was shown that other apps accessed their data, and the other group was only informed of this after the project was completed. “The No Disclosure group were generally not aware of what was happening on their own phones.”
In other news, I am happy and proud to announce that former associate publisher Steve Copley is now full-on publisher of this magazine. After a year in the traces (or should that be trenches?), Steve has ably reinvigorated business aspects of the operation, cleaned house, kicked buttstock, and taken names. It is due and fitting that he now tackle further challenges.
As I shall also, in my new role of group publisher. While continuing to do what I do, my purlieu extends more fully over geographic information systems and Earth observation, as well as new initiatives in the European market. Specifically, the new EAGER newsletter, the EuropeAn GNSS and Earth Observation Report.