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ISACA: Location-based Apps Popular Despite Privacy Concerns

T.C. Seow | April 19, 2012
Consumers continue to use location-based apps, despite concerns about safety and third-party use of their personal information for marketing purposes.

With the proliferation of smart devices comes concern about user data privacy and safety, as unscrupulous organisations could theoretically be collecting information such as users' geographical locations and other data from devices they own and use regularly.

Applications with geolocation capabilities typically offer benefits such as precise navigation, location-based discount coupons or easy information sharing through features like social check-ins. In fact, users rely more and more on such features to help navigate and to share information.

According to a recent telephone poll of 1,000 Americans, conducted by ISACA, a nonprofit global information security association, 58 percent of consumers who have a smart device use location-based applications, despite concerns about safety and third-party use of their personal information for marketing purposes.

Malicious use of geolocation data can put both an individual and an enterprise at risk when personal information like gender, race, occupation and financial history are combined with information from a GPS and geolocation tags.

The study shows that many people have concerns or incomplete information about geolocation, which uses data acquired from a computer or mobile device to identify a physical location.

It reveals that top concerns of users include third-party use of personal information for marketing purposes (24 percent of respondents), and strangers knowing too much about people’s activities (24 percent).

The next biggest concern is personal safety (21 percent).

The study also finds that 43 percent of people do not read the agreements on apps before downloading them, and of those who do read the agreements, 25 percent believe these agreements are not clear about how location information is being used.

Close to one-third (32 percent) of consumers in ISACA’s survey use location-based apps more than they did a year ago.

“Like any other kind of information-sharing, location-based apps can be tremendously convenient but also risky," said Marios Damianides, past international president of ISACA and partner, Advisory Services, at Ernst & Young. "Knowledge is power. People should educate themselves so they can understand how their data is being used or know how to disable this feature."

Daminides also added that businesses collecting location-based data have a responsibility to define an ethical governance policy and communicate it transparently to consumers.

The location-based activities most frequently done on a smartphone, tablet or laptop are getting directions via applications using the respondent’s current location (59 percent), and tagging photos on social media, dating or photo-sharing sites such as Facebook or instagram (44 percent).

Interestingly, the next most popular activity is disabling location-based features on select apps and services (38 percent).

ISACA advises a five-step “ROUTE” to follow for staying informed about geolocation services:

  • Read mobile app agreements to see what information you are sharing.
  • Only enable geolocation when the benefits outweigh the risk.
  • Understand that others can track your current and past locations.
  • Think before posting tagged photos to social media sites.
  • Embrace the technology, and educate yourself and others.

Full survey results and a ROUTE graphic are available at


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