Using ‘location aware’ smartphone apps and voluntarily sharing personal information online leads to diminished privacy of the users, a new study has warned.
The study argues that “dynamic visibility,” in which technological surveillance is combined with personal information volunteered by individuals online, has led to diminished overall privacy.
“Technology is not only used top-down but also bottom-up, with individuals using their own technological devices to share and enhance their visibility in space,” said Tali Hatuka, Head of the Laboratory for Contemporary Urban Design at Tel Aviv University in Israel.
“Whenever we use ‘location-aware’ devices, or tap on Waze or dating apps, like Tinder, or check-in on Facebook, we are really diminishing our own privacy,” Hatuka said.
“This combination of secret surveillance and voluntary sharing contributes to a sense of ‘being exposed’ in a public space that normalises practices of sharing personal data by individuals,” she said.
The study found some differences among sharing preferences in different types of spaces, but these paled in comparison to the overwhelming willingness of participants to share their locations with their social networks.
The researchers developed an app called Smart-Spaces to collect information for the study. The app combines smartphone-based surveys with the online tracking of locations and phone application usage.
The Smart-Spaces application was installed for 20 days on the phones of students, who answered context-based surveys in the course of their daily routines.
Each participant was interviewed before and after the installation of Smart-Spaces.
“More than 73 per cent of the participants shared their locations as they answered the surveys,” said Hatuka.
Results were analysed according to different activities, locations and number of people present at the time.
“Moreover, there was a correlation between the kind of space they were in - private home, library, street, square etc - and their willingness to provide information, with a higher willingness to share location and other information when the subject was in public spaces,” Hatuka said.
“Students are early adopters of smartphone technology, and their practices may predict those of the more general population,” she said.
The study was published in the journal Urban Studies.