Research group at imec & Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Research Result

Privacy concerns and willingness to share personal information in location-based social networks

Smartphones these days are able to capture very precise data on our behavior and our surroundings (e.g. movement, orientation and location). Mobile app developers can combine and integrate these various types of data. This stimulates the growth of location-based social networks (LBSNs). At the same time, app users may be reluctant to exploit mobile apps’ full potential, not knowing what their data might be used for. In our research, we studied users’ privacy concerns and their willingness to share location information when using LBSNs.

Studying privacy concerns and willingness to share location information

In order to identify users perceived value of privacy, we built upon two existing models. We use the ‘privacy calculus’ models to investigate the factors that influence LBSN users’ intention to disclose location information. This theory starts from the belief that users make a cost-benefit analysis when deciding to disclose information and are willing to trade some private information if there is a clear benefit. In addition, the justice theory is applied to investigate the role of privacy intervention approaches that are used to enhance the users’ perception of justice, i.e. incentive provision (monetary benefits, gamification), privacy control and privacy policy. A fair and trustworthy context for collecting and using people’s personal data can alleviate their privacy concerns.

The merits of privacy policy and privacy control

A survey among 909 smartphone users in Belgium reveals that the presence of a privacy policy and privacy control both help in reducing privacy concerns, and subsequently the willingness to share location information. People are less concerned when they experience more control over their privacy and over who has access to their data.

Gaining awareness of others as a driver for sharing personal information

In addition to this, results show that mobile app users are driven by different kinds of benefits to share location information. Extrinsic benefits, such as rewards, have a positive, but moderate effect on willingness to share. The intrinsic benefit of being aware of someone’s activities or presence has the greatest effect. Users are willing to expose personal information to others, while being able to ‘snoop’ on others’ personal lives.

This research was part of the SoLoMIDEM project

This research took place between 2012 and 2014 as part of the SoLoMIDEM project. SoLoMIDEM (Social, Local & Mobile Identity Management) has been supported by the Flemish Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology through the ICON- project program. SoLoMIDEM investigated the development of a platform that uses big data analytics that balances highly- targeted communication with careful privacy management.