Nick Doty Tells Wired.com How Location-Based Apps Can Avoid Being "Creepy"

From Wired.com

How Location-Based Apps Can Stave Off the ‘Creepy Factor’

By Christina Bonnington

Sometimes an app pushes the boundaries of what’s socially acceptable — and it fails miserably. Such is the case with the most recent offender, the check-in-based pariah called Girls Around Me.

“In the mood for love, or just a one night stand?” the app’s website asks. The query wouldn’t be problematic if the app supported an opt-in dating service. But it doesn’t. It’s an app that was using public information from Foursquare check-ins and Facebook to provide voyeuristic, opportunistic gentlemen the chance to scope out local women.

“Was” is an operative word here. Foursquare pulled its API access because Girls Around Me was just too creepy (and violated their terms)....

Nick Doty, a Ph.D. student studying privacy and web standards at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, pointed out a few themes that arise among “creepy” apps.

“In some cases, it may just be a sense of surprise. The user isn’t aware information is being used in a particular way, and when they realize it’s being shared or used differently, that can feel like a violation,” Doty said. “In other cases, it can be the context. Information is shared in one context and reused in another one that’s unexpected or has a different implication.”

Girls Around Me is just one example of that fractured context scenario. Users willingly shared their information within Foursquare or Facebook, but were potentially unaware that this data could be used by third-party party boys.

Over-reaching advertising can also creep us out, Doty says. Say you’re using a restaurant search app, and you’re aware that it’s using your GPS location to help find businesses near you. You’re OK with that. But perhaps the app doesn’t also tell you that it’s using your location for another purpose: to help advertisers better create a profile of you for targeted advertising.

“That’s a pretty common problem — these secondary uses that don’t seem related to the app’s functionality,” Doty said....

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