The State of Location-Tracking Mobile Apps in 2019

By Emily Clark / 22 May 2019

Almost everyone has seen an ad that references their location, according to 727 app users. This demonstrates the popularity of mobile advertisements that target app users' locations. Although people express concern for their data privacy, they also enjoy the benefits that location-tracking technology affords them.  

As consumer data continues to become more valuable for businesses, mobile apps offer some of the highest potential for advertising. 

The average American checks his or her phone 52 times a day, which means mobile app marketers have the opportunity to advertise a product or service to a user repeatedly. 

People rely heavily on their phones for simple activities and communication, which means the ability to increase personalized app experiences is essential for businesses. 

We surveyed more 727 people across the U.S. about their data-sharing habits and experience with location-targeting ads on mobile apps. 

We discovered that most people have seen targeted mobile ads and prefer when apps auto-completes their location to save time.

People will trade privacy for convenience, as most users have shared their location via an app or social media without concern. 

Use this article to investigate the value of location-based advertising and to learn how people share and interact with location data. 

Our Findings

  • Two-thirds of people (66%) are comfortable with apps auto-completing their location, demonstrating the convenience of location-tracking features. 
  • Almost all people (96%) have seen an ad that references their location, as advertising agencies realize the benefit of investing in targeted marketing. 
  • More than a third of people (38%) have accidentally shared their location via a social app without realizing it. 
  • Almost half of people (46%) kept an app after accidentally sharing their location on it, and 40% of people decided to continue sharing their location with the app. 
  • More than three-quarters of people (79%) have included a geotag when posting on social media, showing that the majority of people are unconcerned with location-data security. 

People Like Apps That Auto-Complete Location Information 

Two-thirds of app users (66%) are comfortable with apps that fill in their location from previous activities, as they value the time and effort it saves them. 

Are People Comfortable With Apps Auto-Completing Their Location?

Meanwhile, only 7% of people are uncomfortable when a mobile app fills in their location based on past searches. 

People enjoy the ease auto-completion offers them, as their experience improves when an app recalls past information. 

Businesses understand that people value the convenience of these features and continue to integrate auto-completion and location-tracking into the app experiences.

“[People] like to have predictive text, and the more you use the app, the better we get it because we have more data, and we’re able to better predict what the user might want to do," said Taylor Bond, vice president of client experience at Mindsea, a mobile app development company based in Canada. "This has become the standard.”

A business anticipates its clients' needs by predicting where a customer will go or what a user is searching for.

Google uses autocomplete as a way to improve its UX, especially on mobile devices. 

User Experience Google Search

When searching Google on a smartphone, it can be difficult to type long questions on a small screen. Autocomplete reduces typing by 25%, and Google estimates this saves 200 years of typing time per day among internet users.  

Adding predictive text to a mobile app can motivate users to use the app longer, as it becomes less frustrating to find different products and ask questions. 

Mobile Ads Are Prevalent Across Smartphones

As integrating ads into the mobile experience becomes easier, businesses are investing in growing their presence on mobile apps

Almost all people (96%) have seen an advertisement that references their location. 

96% of people have seen an ad that references their location.

Creating targeted marketing efforts creates a more relevant advertising experience for people. Businesses value location data because it indicates people’s interests and habits, which businesses can appeal to with content. 

Acxiom, a large marketing data company, makes predictions about certain people based on the data it collects about a larger group. For example, Acxiom could predict if you are looking to buy a house by comparing you to people who are in a similar age group, work in a similar industry, and frequent similar locations. 

Acxiom cross-analyzes this information and assumes you are interested in the same products or services as others who are similar to you, such as those who recently bought a house. Ads are then configured to appeal to your previous search history and app activity. 

The New York Times’ Privacy Project bought examples of targeted ads in 2019 and revealed who the ads were targeting. The NYT chose to run this experiment to demonstrate the information businesses collect about people and how well companies “know” their consumers. 

The people who created the ad below for NYT guessed who was viewing it by accessing information through email, social media, credit card payments, and smart home devices.

New York Times Privacy Project Ad Experiment

Source

The NYT used information about its audience to target males who work in the media and don’t have cable. 

Businesses have the opportunity to monitor enormous amounts of information because many consumers’ everyday technologies are connected to the internet. 

Although the NYT did not use the ads in the examples above to market a product, its goal was to expose how much detail companies know about individual consumer behavior. 

This data can create better advertising; however, and 80% of people are more likely to make a purchase when offered a personalized experience. 

Still, when faced with the morality of ad personalization, only 17% say they find targeted advertising ethical

Consumers, however, are willing to trade in the ethics of advertising for the benefits it presents. As such, it can be challenging for companies to decide whether to pursue data collection.  

Mobile app development companies tend to strike a balance between comprehensive data collection and rigid ethics by asking permission before collecting app data. 

Sudeep Srivastava, CEO of Appinventiv, a mobile app development company in India, believes location tracking is particularly important for a company that has users in different locations.  

“I need to know where my audiences are,” Srivastava said. “By knowing their location, I can get to know what kind of facilities they might have, what kind of connections they might have, and what kind of access to systems they might have. Based on that, I can show them some offers, some coupons, some products.”

For example, it can be useful for a business to know if a user lives in Miami. If so, ads probably won’t show winter clothing and internal heating to these users. Instead, a company can advertise swimsuits and beach gear for a more relevant experience. 

Businesses recognize the benefits of targeted advertising, especially through location-tracking apps, but remain wary of possible consumer privacy violations. 

More Than a Third of People Share Their Location on Social Apps Without Knowing It

While businesses remain concerned with data security, consumers also face privacy issues socially. 

Thirty-eight percent of people (38%) have admitted to sharing their location via a social app accidentally.  

Have People Accidentally Shared Their Location Via A Social App?

Social apps such as Snapchat, Facebook, and Tinder all request access to users’ locations to create a more relevant social experience. Still, people do not always realize how much information they are sharing with other people. 

In 2017, Snapchat launched the controversial first version of Snap Map, which automatically updated people’s followers with their real-time location. Some users did not realize who they were sharing their location with and felt at risk because they did not know all their contacts. 

Snap Map Source

Snapchat quickly resolved this issue and made sure people were no longer automatically sharing their location, but other social media platforms face similar problems when users are not always aware of who has their location. 

Adam Fingerman, founder of ArcTouch, mobile app developers in San Francisco, has allowed apps to access his location, especially on social media where location-sharing is a core part of using the app. 

“From personal experience, there are times where I’ve granted permission to an app, and I maybe don’t recall that I have or why I did,” Fingerman said. “I think Facebook is a good example. Often when you’re posting a picture, it can tag it with the location. You might not realize it’s doing it. You might forget that it’s doing it. I think probably that happens to people a lot of times.”

People’s reactions to accidentally sharing their location vary but includes three main responses:

  1. Keep the app but stop sharing location
  2. Keep the app and continue sharing location
  3. Delete the app

1. Nearly Half of People Keep Location-Tracking Apps but Stop Sharing Their Location 

Although sharing your location with the wrong person can be a safety concern, most people (86%) keep the app on which they accidentally shared their location. 

Almost half of people (46%), however, stop sharing their location with the app. 

46% of people stopped sharing their location on social apps after they accidentally shared it but they still kept the app.

Depending on the mobile app, location can be an integral part of the service. Uber and Google Maps both require users to share their location because otherwise, their app would have no purpose – people couldn’t get directions on Google Maps or find a ride on Uber without location sharing.

Social apps are less location-driven than other apps but offer value to people who want to share where they are traveling with friends or what event they are attending.

People, of course, will be less alarmed if they find out they accidentally shared their location with a trustworthy follower. 

“I did realize once that I had continued to share my location with a friend long after we were done hanging out,” said Liz Jeneault, vice president of marketing at Faveable.com, a product reviews site. “While this was a close friend, and it didn't bother me too much, I made sure to turn off location sharing once I discovered it. … There's really no reason for someone to be able to monitor your every move. It almost feels like an invasion of privacy.” 

There's really no reason for someone to be able to monitor your every move. It almost feels like an invasion of privacy.

People do not always like sharing their location with people but do not feel threatened by accidental sharing, especially when it is with a friend.

However, people feel as though privacy has been violated when someone is constantly tracking their location.  

2. Forty Percent of People Continue Sharing Their Location With Apps After Accidental Sharing

Surprisingly, 40% of people continue to share their location with an app after realizing they shared it accidentally. 

40% of people continued to share their location on social apps even after accidentally sharing it.

Although 91% of Americans believe that people have lost control over how their personal information is collected and used, the consumer takes little action to prevent this data from being taken. 

This privacy issue came to light when Target collected data from a teenage girl’s browsing history and deduced she was pregnant and sent maternity coupons to her home. The girl’s father received the coupons and learned his teenage daughter was pregnant before she told him. 

Target figured out the girl was pregnant by comparing her previous shopping and browsing purchases with other women who were pregnant. People, however, were alarmed that Target could know more about them than their family did, so the store decided to become subtler in its targeted advertising. 

Now, Target intersperses random ads with the targeted ones so it doesn’t seem as though Target has information about the customer. The company found that people will use the coupons as long as they don’t think it's due to data collection. 

Although 80% of customers prefer personalized experiences, people find such ads “creepy.” Still, consumers are willing to trade the privacy infringements for more relevant marketing. 

3. Only 14% of People Delete Apps After Accidental Sharing 

Unknowingly sharing your location could have repercussions, but only 14% of people actually delete the app on which they accidentally shared their location.

14% of people deleted an app after accidentally sharing their location.

Giving your location to strangers could pose a risk, but most people are unaware of how long they are sharing their location or which friends have it. 

Joao Mendes Reis, co-founder of NoFootprint Nomads, an online zero-waste travel brand, discovered the location-sharing feature of Facebook when he accidentally sent his location to a group of friends.

“Using the Facebook Messenger app was a little confusing, and when I thought I was sending my location to one person, I was actually sharing my location continuously for an hour with a group of people,” Reis said. “It did not annoy me; it actually helped me discover a useful feature.”

Reis appreciated the real-time location-tracking feature of Facebook Messenger, which helped him find his friends after an event. 

Location tracking offers convenience to users, but people still worry about the potential risks involved with giving away that much information. 

Most People Tag Their Location on Social Media, Even With Mobile Security Risks

Social media allows people to communicate with their friends and family using pictures, posts, and videos. Tagging location can inform followers where people went on vacation, what they are doing on weekends, and where they work. 

As such, 79% of people have used geotags to indicate their location on social media apps. Geotags are electronic tags that attach a location to a photo or video, usually on social media. 

How Often Do People Use Geotags on Social Media?

Although most people use geotags, only 18% of people always tag their location on social media, while 24% only occasionally do. 

It can be dangerous to tag your location on social media consistently, as it indicates when you are not at home. If you do not know all your Facebook friends well or at all, there is a risk that they could target your home when you tag that you are somewhere else. 

It is important to tag your location safely when you know that someone is checking up on your home or you have a security system in place. On Facebook, you can also share posts with only certain people you trust, rather than everyone who follows your timeline. 

Location tagging on social media apps, however, can be a great way for local businesses to drive traffic. Your business can tag where it is located on its Facebook or Instagram page. 

Your page then has a greater chance of showing up in search results when people search on these platforms for specific locations. 

Below is an example of a woman searching for the city Agen, France; and then seeing Facebook pages associated with that city. 

Facebook Geotagging Example

McDonald’s included its Agen location in its name and also tagged where it was located, which makes it appear in the Facebook search results for Agen. Your business can benefit from location tagging like this, too.

In addition, location tagging increases engagement with Instagram posts by 79%. People like to know where others are and if they can also have that same experience. 

Although tagging location for individuals can increase risk, businesses do not have to worry about this issue. There is no real disadvantage to listing where your business is located on an app because businesses want to increase their visibility and draw more traffic to their location. 

Most people exercise caution when they use geotagging on social media, realizing the potential benefits and disadvantages of doing either. Businesses, however, recognize the advantage of using location tracking to create more effective advertising for their users. 

Mobile App Location Features Raise Privacy Questions Among Consumers But Increase Business

Location data can be crucial for learning more about users and creating personalized experiences. 

Two-thirds of people prefer apps to auto-complete their location to save time, while almost everyone has seen an ad that references their location. People enjoy the convenience of targeted advertising but find the amount of personal data companies have to be “creepy.”

Although people feel some concern about location tracking, more than a third have accidentally shared their location on an app. Almost half of people continue sharing their location with the mistaken party, disregarding the lack of privacy.  

People claim to dislike data collection but enjoy the personalized experiences this data gives them. Businesses should continue to learn more about their users but must first ask for permission before monitoring user behavior. 

Hire a mobile app development company if you are unsure how to implement location-tracking features into your app, and make sure to consider your customers when deciding the value of collecting location information. 

About the Survey

The Manifest surveyed 727 people across the U.S. who use location-tracking apps. 

More than half the survey respondents are female (54%), and 46% are male. 

About 17% of respondents are between ages 18 and 24; 28% are between ages 25 and 34; 26% are between ages 35 and 44; 29% are 45 and older. 

Almost all respondents use social apps (93%), while more than two-thirds use transportation apps (69%). Nearly half of respondents use travel/hospitality apps (46%) and fitness apps (44%). 

All respondents own a smartphone and allow apps to track their locations. 

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