Have you ever checked in at a restaurant with your Facebook mobile app or used the geolocation feature on Instagram? These mobile apps, along with many others, use the GPS functionality on smartphones.
According to an article from eWeek, 59 percent of smartphone owners use location-based apps to get directions, while 44 percent use these apps to tag images on social media or photo-sharing sites such as Facebook and Foursquare.
Many smartphone owners aren’t aware that these apps tap into personal data stored on smartphones, such as contacts or browsing history. Why do app developers want user data? Often, they use it to target ads or to collect personal information, such as age and gender. But how would the average smartphone owner know that?
Recently, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris advised 100 mobile app developers that they must disclose their privacy policies on their apps and define what type of data is collected and shared:
"Protecting the privacy of online consumers is a serious law enforcement matter," Harris said in a written statement. "We have worked hard to ensure that app developers are aware of their legal obligations to respect the privacy of Californians, but it is critical that we take all necessary steps to enforce California’s privacy laws."
Read the article Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris puts mobile apps on notice about privacy from the Los Angeles Times.
These location-based apps make life easier, and, as a result, many smartphone owners use them without much thought. According to this infographic by OnlineColleges, 74 percent of smartphone owners use these apps; 18 percent of owners use the apps for the social aspect of sharing their location with their followers.
In the first three months of 2012, smartphone sales increased at a rate of 45 percent worldwide. It’s reasonable to conclude, then, that many users will be handing over their personal information to location-based apps. The infographic below illustrates how these apps work, which smartphone owners fall into the trap and how they can avoid it.