Many of the apps used most often by Android owners collected updated location information on users an average of 6,200 times, or about every three minutes, over a two-week period, according to an upcoming study from Carnegie Mellon University. The study comes at a time when polls indicate that Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about how much control they have over their personal information.
Researchers monitored the apps used by 23 random students at Carnegie Mellon, allowing them to use whichever apps they would normally choose. The Weather Channel's app, for instance, tried to access a user's physical location an average of 2,000 times (every 10 minutes or so) over the course of the study, according to the Wall Street Journal. Groupon asked for one respondent's location data at least 1,062 times, the report noted.
“The vast majority of people have no clue about what's going on,” Norman Sadeh, a CMU professor of computer science, said in a statement. He explained that users did more to protect their information when researchers sent them messages showing how much of their data was vulnerable. “The fact that users respond to privacy nudges indicate that they really care about privacy, but were just unaware of how much information was being collected about them.”
Location data has become especially valuable to app companies, largely because it's so valuable to advertisers. If an advertiser is able to ping a smartphone with an ad for GameStop just before the owner happens to walk by a store, for example, that makes it 40 percent more likely the customer will walk in, according to Mobile Marketing Association research cited by the Journal.
Researchers also determined it's possible to predict individuals' privacy settings based on their answers to just a few privacy-related questions. The study's announcement did not include a full list of the apps examined.