“I don’t want my location to be tracked, but I give my location out constantly.”
“Location consent is intrusive – often the locations shouldn’t be relevant.”
“If I don’t feel comfortable, I should have the right to deny its access.”
“I might be Googling something real quick at work, and I’m like, “why do they need to know my work location?”
“So they’re obviously just tracking me…. it’s unnecessary and I never asked for it.”
These quotes represent sentiments from our research that illustrate the significance of permission, relevance, and control for respectful technology behavior.
This research was conducted to validate the Location Commitment scoring criteria in the Me2B Alliance Respectful Technology Specification1. The objective of the study was to understand if the requirements and passing criteria of select location tests in the Me2BA Respectful Technology Specification are appropriate. Toward that end, we conducted quantitative and qualitative studies of consumers’ perception and tolerance for location awareness2 by digital technologies. The studies explored participants’ understanding of what a location request is, how consumers feel about such awareness, and what are the specific parameters and scenarios that make location awareness acceptable.
The core of the research was an online survey of 363 people, in which we looked at respondent’s sentiments towards websites or mobile apps that are location aware, explored how having an account affected respondent’s feelings about location awareness, and examined how different scenarios and contexts might affect respondent’s choice of what location information was acceptable, when, and for how long. We also reviewed other interviews and focus groups studies conducted by the Me2B Alliance, in which participants discussed the kinds of information they share with digital technologies. Two primary research questions guided our work:
- How do people feel when a website or mobile app automatically knows their location?
- Under what conditions is it acceptable for a website or mobile app to know one’s location?
Key findings from our research include:
Participant sentiment is more negative than positive towards a website or app that “knows your physical location when you first open it”. The terms used to describe websites and apps that are immediately location-aware were more often negative than positive. 65% of respondents had an overall negative sentiment towards a website that knew their location upon first open; 52% of respondents had an overall negative sentiment towards a mobile app that knew their location upon first open. In addition, four of the top five terms used were negative (Creepy, Scary, Annoying and Bad), with “Convenient” being the only positive. 30% of respondents indicated that it was “Convenient” for a mobile app to know location information upon first open; this may reflect the element of agency involved in selecting and installing apps creating more tolerance around location awareness in apps versus websites.
About 70% of respondents indicated it was unacceptable for either a website or an app to know their location before the creation of an account – a “Me2B Marriage”.
Respondents were more tolerant of location sharing if they had an account than if they did not. If they did have an account, respondents were more comfortable with mobile apps knowing their physical location (45% Yes vs 35% No) than websites (34% Yes vs 45% No). However, 45% of respondents still felt it was unacceptable for websites to know their location even with an account. For both websites and mobile apps, “Maybe” responses jumped from 4% (website) and 5% (mobile app) to 20% (both) when respondents have an account, which suggests that having an account increases tolerance for location awareness. These findings validate the importance of the Me2B Marriage state as a meaningful context for how people experience their Me2B relationships.
The specific context in which location information is requested – including the website/app’s need for location information – makes a difference in how accepting or tolerant people are towards sharing that information. Participants were more comfortable sharing their “home address” or “exact location” for scenarios where location awareness was relevant. Depending on the scenario, respondents preferred that websites or mobile apps know or remember their location either not at all (“never”), or “only when I am using the site”.
Terms used to describe when location awareness is acceptable highlighted agency and permission, as well as issues of trust and safety, and the importance of specific contexts. The two largest term clusters were “Ask” and “Ask Permission,” while other leading clusters were around related terms such as: Allow, Access, Consent, Reason or Good Reason, as well as: Security, Trust, Privacy, Safe, and Safety. Popular, context-specific terms included: Delivery, Ordering, Weather, Directions, and Map. For those who selected “Maybe” when asked if it is acceptable to share location information, key reasons were the ability to give permission, and whether location information was required for use.
Our research confirms that location awareness is something people are sensitive to and that people prefer to have control over the location data being shared. Website and mobile app consumers are aware in most cases that technologies may track their location. The specific context in which this information is requested, and, in particular, the relevance of the location information to the task, affects how accepting people are of sharing their location information – and to what degree, and for what length of time. People are more negatively inclined towards a website or mobile app that automatically knows their location – but, again, context matters. Convenience is a primary factor, while such sites are also seen as “Creepy, Scary, Annoying and Bad.” Key variables that make location awareness acceptable are asking permission and having a valid reason for needing this information.
Based on this research, we find that, for people to consider it acceptable for a digital product to know their location, two essential conditions must be met
- The person must have agency over granting access to location information, and
- There needs to be a legitimate and understandable need for location info.
Our research supports the scoring rubric in the Internet Safety Labs Safe Sofware Specification. Based on this work, we are confident that the current scoring for passing/failing behavior related to a website or mobile app’s location awareness in the Internet Safety Labs Safe Sofware Specification accurately reflects the tolerances and sensitivities of individual Me-s and works towards ensuring respectful behavior for digital technologies.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/