Location-Sharing Technologies: Privacy Risks and Controls

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Lorrie Faith Cranor, Patrick Gage Kelley, Norman Sadeh and Janice Y. Tsai


I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, Volume 6, Issue 2, Summer 2010


This article attempts to gauge user opinions about the risks and benefits of location-sharing technologies.

Policy Relevance

With the increasing value of mobile advertising, companies are eager for users to adopt location-sharing technologies. However, at this point inadequate privacy protections prevent large-scale user acceptance of these programs.

Main Points

  • Location-sharing technologies (LST) are phone applications or computer software that have the ability to track a user’s location, either via GPS or other process, and relay that location to others, be they friends or advertisers.
  • With mobile marketing, which relies on LST applications, projected to reach 24 billion dollars in revenue in 2013, companies are eager to get users to adopt LST technology. However, users have been slow to allow companies to use this type of information.
  • Previous research has shown that users are concerned that there are no adequate privacy protections in existence that will protect their location history and information if they begin using LSTs. Moreover, users are worried about how companies will use this new information.
  • It appears that users’ concerns may be justified, as only two-thirds of LST applications had any form of privacy policy, and that many of the privacy polices in use were inadequate.
  • In order to get a better idea of why users are hesitant to adopt LSTs, an online study was conducted asking users to weigh the benefits of LSTs against the risks. The results of that study are as follows:

    • Users were most concerned about revealing their location to others, including the risk of being stalked
    • Users considered the ability to find individuals in emergency situations and keeping track of their children the most important and best uses of LST.
  • In order to garner greater acceptance with users, LST companies should create more expressive privacy policies and create application functions that are more important to users than connecting with friends.

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