Title

Location-Sharing Technologies: Privacy Risks and Controls

Date of Original Version

2009

Type

Working Paper

Abstract or Table of Contents

Due to the ability of cell phone providers to use cell phone towers to pinpoint users’ locations, federal E911 requirements, the increasing popularity of GPS-capabilities in cellular phones, and the rise of cellular phones for Internet use, a plethora of new applications have been developed that share users’ real-time location information online [27]. This paper evaluates users’ risk and benefit perceptions related to the use of these technologies and the privacy controls of existing location-sharing applications. We conducted an online survey of American Internet users (n = 587) to evaluate users’ perceptions of the likelihood of several location-sharing use scenarios along with the magnitude of the benefit or harm of each scenario (e.g. being stalked or finding people in an emergency).We find that although the majority of our respondents had heard of location-sharing technologies (72.4%), they do not yet understand the potential value of these applications, and they have concerns about sharing their location information online. Most importantly, participants are extremely concerned about controlling who has access to their location. Generally, respondents feel the risks of using location-sharing technologies outweigh the benefits. Respondents felt that the most likely harms would stem from revealing the location of their home to others or being stalked. People felt the strongest benefit were being able to find people in an emergency and being able to track their children. We then analyzed existing commercial location-sharing applications’ privacy controls (n = 89). We find that while location-sharing applications do not offer their users a diverse set of rules to control the disclosure of their location, they offer a modicum of privacy.