“They’d both been geo-located at the courts for the same time over several days, thanks to their locations being turned on,” she said.
The data gathered by apps on how we move around during our day-to-day activities is immensely valuable to app developers, who can sell it to third parties, usually with the unwitting permission of users who agreed to their data being shared when they installed the app.
Associate Professor Mitchell said the issue was important, but many people simply weren’t aware of what was happening.
“Often with free apps in particular, what you’re trading off to get that free app is their access to your location data,” Associate Professor Mitchell said.
“Quite often apps will sell your location data to third-party monetisation companies which then on-sell it to marketers, advertisers and various other people who might want that data.”
“So what we’re trying to find out is whether people do actually see this data as particularly sensitive or whether they just see it as another piece of data they’re giving away.
Many people were aware their phone was feeding back data on their movements from some apps, Associate Professor Mitchell said, but many were not aware of how that information could be used.
Recent high-profile cases of online data being used in unexpected ways included exercise app Strava accidentally revealing the location of secret US military bases in the Middle East because soldiers regularly jogged around their perimeters.
In March this year, an Australian-developed family tracking app that let parents keep tabs on children was found to have stored the location information of more than 230,000 users in a completely unsecured database, able to be accessed by anyone.
Associate Professor Mitchell said many apps, particularly ones such as Google Maps and Uber, needed location information to work properly.
She said there were many positives to apps sharing data, including situations like the convenience of using maps applications in peak hour, or Uber’s feature allowing users to share their exact location with a trusted friend or family member.
But she said ultimately everyone needed to become more aware of who had access to their location data, and what they were allowed to do with it.
“People need to become more data literate, but also the apps themselves need to communicate this more effectively,» she said.
“When people sign up, apps need to clearly state what information they need and how they will use it, whether they will share it with third-parties, where it will end up.
“There are serious issues surrounding this, because as an EU report into this issue said recently — where you are is who you are.”
The QUT survey will run until June 3 and covers popular apps including Apple Maps, Google Maps, MapMyRun, Gumtree, Pokémon Go, Tinder, Uber Eats, and Weatherzone.
Stuart Layt covers health, science and technology for the Brisbane Times. He was formerly the Queensland political reporter for AAP.