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Here I am! More smartphone users share geo-location data: survey

“74 per cent of adult smartphone owners ages 18 and older say they use their phone to get directions or other information based on their current location.”

Marcio Jose Sanchez

More Americans are putting themselves on the map, at least when it comes to using location services like maps, Foursquare-like checkins and other geo-location services.

Not everything our continental cousins do automatically translates to Canada, but our level of smartphone penetration is similar to that of our southern neighbour, making the latest survey from Pew Research Center's Internet Project more than just a curiosity.

Among the findings where the obvious: "74 per cent of adult smartphone owners ages 18 and older say they use their phone to get directions or other information based on their current location."

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Accessing maps is one of the top five things people do on their phones (somewhere in the mix with messaging, Internet access, using the camera and gaming).

But Pew also found a growing number (about 30 per cent) of that 18+ age group has turned on the geo-location features of their social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) so their digital status updates are plotted in real space.

At the same time there has been a decrease in the number of "check-ins," down to 12 per cent from the 18 per cent who were doing so in early 2012. The majority of these more purposeful social announcements of a user's physical presence at a location happen on Facebook (39 per cent of check-ins) where it is just one option among many available to users, while just 18 per cent say they do so on Foursquare, a social service that puts check-ins at the heart of their social offering.

Essentially, passively mapping what you do seems to be more desirable than pressing an active "here I am" button on an app designed for that purpose.

That information comes from a Pew study conducted from April 17 to May 19, 2013, among a sample of 2,252 adults ages 18 and older.

While there's a growing group of people who like companies to know where they are, some previous research by Pew showed more than one-third (35 per cent) of adult smartphone users have at one point explicitly turned off all these tracking features.

In a somewhat surprising turn, teenagers are even more likely (about 46 per cent of them) to turn off geo-location features, and teen girls rank first among surveyed groups: 59 per cent of girls between the ages of 12-17 have turned off geo-tracking.

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Sadly those turn-off numbers are pretty stale (from a June-September 2012 survey of 800 teens), and so any potential reaction to reports of NSA spying on Americans will not factor in.

It may be possible that location-savvy teens are just the leading edge of a wave of "do-not-track" smartphone users, but either way it's a trend worth watching.

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About the Author
Technology reporter

Shane Dingman is The Globe and Mail's technology reporter. He covers BlackBerry, Shopify and rising Canadian tech companies in Waterloo, Ont., Toronto and beyond. More

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