Mobile

Pew Study: Most Smartphone Users Have Location-Based Apps

5/11/2012 11:23 AM Eastern

The majority of smartphone users (74%) get real-time, location based information on their smartphones, according to a new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The study found that 41% of smartphone users get location info from their phones, up from 23% in May 2011. Such apps include GPS, weather apps, or ones that let you know where your friends are currently congregating or how close you are to the newest movie, trendiest restaurant or urgent care center.

For example, the study found that the percentage of respondents who use "geosocial" services like Foursquare is now 10%, up from only 4% in 2011.

The number of those smartphone users has jumped as well, from 35% of adults in May 2011 to 46% as of February 2012), and there are now smartphone owners than those without them among the cellphone-owning population.

That rise in tracking applications has become an issue in Washington, where legislators are trying to figure out how to protect privacy while not discouraging the Internet economy and its users that, as the study indicates, have a healthy interest in location-based services. But it is the potentially unhealthy interest that has some in Washington concerned. For example, the same app info that lets a parent know where their child is could also provide that data to a predator if they can get access to it. One senator last year introduced a bill to prevent the sharing of geolocation info with the government.

The issue was also spotlighted last year by Google's admission it was collecting user data as part of its Street View mapping initiative, and Apple's admission that geolocation information being collected by iPhones was being stored too long and not sufficiently secured.

"We've watched mobile phones become increasingly entwined in people's everyday activities, and location-based services are an important part of that," said Pew Internet Research Specialist and report author Kathryn Zickuhr in announcing the survey.

That is not the case for some demos, however. Only 13% of seniors 65-plus have smartphones, up only a couple of percentage points from 11% in 2011 (and within the statistical margin of error).

For those without a college degree, the figure is 25%, which is up 7 percentage points from last year but still only half the national average.

Folks are getting more familiar with their smart phones. This year, only 8% did not know whether or not they have one. Last year it was 14%.

The study is based on telephone interviews with 2,253 respondents 18 and older, conducted Jan. 20-Feb. 19, with a plus/minus sampling error of 2.3 percentage points, to a 95% degree of certainty (the latter a common caveat with surveys).

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