There was a time when “checking in” meant picking up the phone and letting your parents know where you were and when you’d be home. Those were simpler times—when you could find a phone, of course. With the rise of smartphones and the increased use of location-tagging services, things have become a bit more complex. Whether you’re checking in to a popular venue on Foursquare, hunting down a nearby restaurant on Yelp or getting directions via Google Maps, it seems like nearly every app wants a piece of the location-tagging pie. And it’s not only the apps built specifically around location tagging. Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are getting in on the game, prompting users to share their whereabouts within each post. Things are changing in the mobile game of “check-in,” and now is a good time to examine how smartphone users are responding.
A new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project examined the use of location-based services by more than 2,200 adult smartphone users. The results shed some light on both the benefits and dangers of the use of location-based apps. Pew Research cited three general findings that were particularly insightful:
- Nearly 75% of all smartphone owners are using apps with location-based features to help them navigate in their real-time travels.
- An increasing number of social media users are setting their social network accounts (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to include location tagging of their posts and comments.
- The use of standalone “check-in” applications (such as Foursquare) is on a decline.
What else did the report reveal about smartphone owners? Let’s take a look.
Who says men don’t ask for directions?
The Pew Research Center found that 74% of adult smartphone owners use their phone to get directions or other such information based on their current location. What’s interesting is that 76% of male owners turned to their devices for directions and location-based information versus just 72% of their female counterparts. Perhaps it’s not as big of a hit to one’s pride when Siri is around to keep the secret? There goes the age-old adage of men never asking for directions.
Speaking of age…
While smartphone owners between the ages of 18-29 are the most likely to use their devices for directions and location-based information, it’s actually the 30-49 year olds who are most likely to tag their locations in social media posts. Many social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allow the user to automatically “tag” their statuses/updates with the location they’re being posted from. Additionally, 30% of adult social media users have at least one account that is currently set up to do this, up from 14% in 2011.
Girls just want to have fun
One particularly interesting finding in this study from a privacy point of view, was the number of adults and teens who have turned off location tracking capabilities within their apps. Among smartphone owners over the age of 18, 35% have turned off a location-tracking feature. Whether or not they’re being cautious or simply trying to prevent parents from discovering their whereabouts, nearly half (46%) of teen app users have done the same. Girls are much more likely than boys to disable these features, with a 59% likelihood of turning off a location-tracking app feature.
Suburbia is where it’s at!
Though the percentage of smartphone owners who use geosocial apps such as Foursquare to “check in” to a location has decreased from 18% in 2012 to 12% in 2013, checking in remains quite popular in suburbia. Roughly 14% of adult suburban smartphone owners use check-in services (compared to 10% of urban and 9% of rural users). This trend is also reflected in adults and teens who use location tagging on social posts: 35% of suburban adults tag location in their social posts compared to 28% of urban and 24% of rural adults. Suburban teens are also nearly twice as likely to tag location in their social posts as their urban and rural counterparts (21% vs. 11%).
As location-based offerings continue to permeate our use of social media, try to follow the tips below to make sure you’re not giving away too much information when you do check in:
- If you’re inclined to share your location, keep your account private. Whether you’re tagging a location on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you can feel a lot more secure if your account is only visible to followers and friends you have pre-approved.
- Don’t tell the world you’re heading out of town. Though it can be tempting to let followers and friends know about your exciting vacation plans, this is an open invitation to burglars who may know where you live from previous location-tagged posts on your other social media accounts.
- Disable auto-location sharing on all social networks. The Pew Research Center stated that 30% of all social media users (mobile and online) have location tagging set to default on at least one of their social networks (e.g. Twitter). Location sharing should be considered on a case-by-case basis. You don’t want to “over share” when it comes to your location.
- Control which of your apps use location tagging. Most mobile devices let you enable overall location services in the general Settings. On both iOS and Android devices, you can set the location-tagging permissions for each app, individually, once device-wide permission has been enabled.
- On Apple mobile devices: go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. From this menu, you can select to enable device-wide location tagging as well as determine the permissions for individual apps.
- On Android devices: go to Settings > Location Services and select enable Google’s location services, and then enable/disable GPS satellites and/or Wi-Fi.
- Overall, try to disable location services for apps that you don’t use on a regular basis or that don’t need such information to function properly. It not only protects your data, but also helps conserve the battery life on your phone or tablet.
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