“Empirical Models of Privacy in Location Sharing” (2010)

This was an interesting article dating from the early days of location-sharing mobile technology, before the widespread use of smartphones. Location sharing in Locaccino, the application used by participants, was based on time, location, and network rules. The authors concluded that these specific privacy settings allowed users to feel more comfortable with the locations they shared. Location sharing applications today feature very few of these customizations. Usually the only restriction that can be set in an app such as Apple’s Find My Friends is a network one, i.e. one can choose the friends with which to share. Locaccino is also different in its reliance on “requests” rather than a stream of location pings, with the most recent location always displayed to friends. The nature of location requests is analyzed considerably in this study, and user’s social groups are easily identified in this analysis.

Today location-sharing tends to be embedded in other social platforms, where network settings are predetermined by a user’s list of friends, and everyone in the list is allowed to access the location (in the cases of Snapchat and Facebook). Facebook allows for customization of this list; users can create specific lists of facebook friends with which to share location, or among academic or work networks, which can include non-friends. The only time-based customization allowed is a restriction to location-sharing “while using the app” versus “always”.

Most of my friends perceive location-sharing on social platforms as invasive. My friends who use Apple’s Find My Friends, which allows sharing only between specifically invited iPhone users, typically share locations with family and spouses only. I think that the results of this research are relevant today, and location-sharing platforms might be better received if they allowed users to tailor their location-sharing settings.

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