Location-Based Social Networking

Major Findings from Focus Groups and Observational Studies


Sarah Jean Fusco

School of Computing and Information Technology

University of Wollongong

NSW, Australia


Roba Abbas

School of Computing and Information Technology

University of Wollongong

NSW, Australia



Katina Michael

School of Computing and Information Technology

University of Wollongong

NSW, Australia


Anas Aloudat

Department of Management Information Systems

The University of Jordan

Amman, Jordan


Abstract—Location-based social networking (LBSN) apps, such as Google Latitude, Find My Friends and Life360 enhance our ability to perform social surveillance. These applications enable users to view and share real time location information with other users. As location based social networking technologies are used between one or more people, they have the potential to impact relationships, which are integral not only to the operation of society but also to the individual’s well-being. This paper presents a discussion on the effects of LBSN upon trust in varying relationship contexts- friends, partners, parent-child, siblings, employer-employee contexts.

Keywords—location, social media, social networking, trust

                                                                                                                                                            I.      Introduction

In 2009, focus groups and observational studies were conducted, investigating the effects of location based social networking on trust [1-5]. Focus groups were run three months after the creation of Google Latitude, and observational studies were conducted using a taxonomy of personal relationships. The app created by Google was adopted to conduct the observational study, however, the product was discontinued on August 9, 2013. Latitude came under scrutiny when in November 2009, Google announced a new Latitude feature called "Location History". This feature stored and analyzed a user's location over time, attempting to accurately identify a user’s workplace as opposed to their home location. At the end of May 2010, Google announced an API which allowed applications to make use of Latitude data, with the explicit user's consent, and in February 2012 a Leaderboard feature was added that provided a point scoring and score comparison capability between users. Amid concerns over locational privacy, Google announced that Latitude overwrote a user's previous location with the new location data and did not keep logs of locations provided. However, the “last known” location record could be interpreted in a variety of ways. By early 2011, Google Latitude optionally recorded a history of places visited and counted time spent at each place, displaying statistics for "Time at Work", "Time Spent at Home" and "Time Spent Out".

                                                                                                                                                                  II.    Discussion

The objective of this research was to undertake a social informatics enquiry into the use of LBSN with a particular focus on identifying whether LBSN presented a credible threat to trust between friends. The results help us to understand socio-technical issues of LBSN better and also to provide substantial evidence for the proposition that LBSN can have negative implications upon trust between friends. In line with social informatics enquiries the outcome of the research is not the statement LBSN reduces trust between friends or creates distrust. The outcome of the research is an understanding that LBSN can negatively impact upon trust, and the socio-technical framework provides a guide to understanding in what circumstances this will be likely to occur.

The circumstances within which LBSN will negatively affect trust depend upon the type of relationship the technology is used within, the pre-existing level of trust, the predisposition of the user, the accuracy and reliability of the location service and the features of the technology and how they are used.

The results showed that in close sibling relationships there is a very low likelihood of trust being negatively impacted upon, all other relationships showed higher levels of potential impact with the highest impact occurring in parent-child relationships mainly because of the motivation of parents to constantly use the device to check up on their children, which therefore increased the likelihood that the parent would question the child’s whereabouts. Whether or not there was pre-existing trust in the relationship affected whether the use of LBSN would affect trust in the given relationship. In general it was found that relationships with higher levels of pre-existing trust experienced fewer scenarios indicating a loss of trust. However these relationships are by no means immune to the effects of LBSN.

The predisposition of the user relates to the users likelihood to be suspicious, curious, and anxious, seek connectedness or sociability, and be protective or controlling. The focus group and observations revealed that where there is pre-existing control in a relationship LBSN would function as a device to exert that control. In addition, users who tended towards being curious, such as the case of the mother and the younger sibling, tend to refer to the device more often and become reliant upon the information provided by it. Whether users are seeking connectedness also impacts upon their use of LBSN, and whether they are protective of other people will also impact on how they use LBSN.

The accuracy and reliability of the location service caused many of the occurrences of loss of trust during the observations. The reason for this was that Google Latitude was at times very unreliable and would not update for half hour periods, and this caused the mother to be concerned that the daughter was stuck in a certain location. Furthermore the inaccuracy also caused the girlfriend doubt when her boyfriend’s location was very accurate as she thought it was a fake address.

Finally the features of the technology and how they are used also affects whether trust will be impacted upon. Features mentioned in this research include the ability to receive feedback describing when users are accessing your location information and the “Privacy settings” provided by Latitude. How these features are used, particularly the privacy settings, will also affect whether the trust between individuals will be challenged by the use of LBSN. As in the observational study between the boyfriend and girlfriend showed that by using the privacy settings even as a joke the boyfriend could invoke in the girlfriend doubt as to whether his future location would be correct or fabricated.

      In addition to these outcomes the results provide a nuanced and holistic view of the factors at play when using LBSN and how users respond to these factors. The socio-technical framework developed provides future researchers with a platform to engage in further in-depth studies into the implications of LBSN.

                                                                                                                                                        III.   Major Findings

LBSN applications provide users with the ability to conduct real time social surveillance upon their friends. The research, through the conduct of a social informatics investigation into LBSN, identified the potential implications of use of LBSN upon relationships, including its effects upon trust.

The results from the focus group provided a broad view of the use, design, implementation and context of LBSN, and insight into the possible implications of use. The observational studies tested this insight in real-world scenarios. The outcomes of the observational study were two fold, firstly many of the hypotheses presented by the focus group were validated, and secondly the understanding of LBSN was broadened as new factors were discovered during the observations.

The conclusion to be drawn from this research is the nuanced understanding of the operation of LBSN and its implications as well as the circumstances within which it will have a negative impact upon trust. In addition this research identifies that LBSN does present a credible threat to trust between friends.

This research presented an outline of the socio-technical framework for understanding the implications of LBSN. This contributed to theory in the domain of social informatics as well as contributing to the research in the area of LBSN. The findings from this research can also be used to influence the development of policy and procedures surrounding LBSN [6]. In addition the findings can be used to inform individuals of the potential implications of LBSN and inform debate upon the implications of ICTs. Finally, the two phased research method employed by the researchers presented a novel method for evaluating technology.

                                                                                                                                                             IV.   Future Work

This research has identified many areas of future work into LBSN. Firstly, further observational studies should be conducted, over a longer time frame, to observe the effects of prolonged use of LBSN upon trust in relationships. In addition as LBSN in practice does not only involve 1-to-1 but 1-to-many relationships, future studies should explore the implication of having 1-to-many relationships and managing the information flow among those relationships. Other research areas which warrant exploration include the ability of LBSN to provide “real” connectedness, the potential for LBSN to cause unnecessary anxiety, the ability of LBSN to be used as a tool for control, the security of users’ location information, and users’ response to privacy concerns of LBSN. Additional feature sets were added to Google Latitude with some integration with Google Maps. The ability to store location chronicles by type, may well have been responsible for the consumer backlash against the product and its ultimate retirement.


[1]     S.J. Fusco, K. Michael, and M.G. Michael, “Using a social informatics framework to study the effects of location-based social networking on relationships between people: A review of literature”, IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society, June 2010, University of Wollongong, Austrlalia, IEEE, pp. 157-171.

[2]     S.J. Fusco, K. Michael, A. Aloudat, R. Abbas, “Monitoring people using location based social networking and its negative impact on trust: An exploratory contextual analysis of five types of “friend” relationships”, IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society, May 2011, Xavier University, New York, IEEE, pp. 1-11.

[3]     S.J. Fusco, R. Abbas, K.Michael, A. Aloudat, “Location-based social networking: impact on trust in relationships”, IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 31(2), pp. 39-50.

[4]     S.J. Fusco, K. Michael, M.G. Michael, R. Abbas, “Exploring the Social Implications of Location Based Social Networking: An Inquiry into the Perceived Positive and Negative Impacts of Using LBSN between Friends”, 2010 Ninth International Conference on Mobile Business and Ninth Global Mobility Roundtable (ICMB-GMR), June 2010, Athens, Greece, pp. 230-237.

[5]     M.G. Michael, S.J. Fusco, and K. Michael, “A research note on ethics in the emerging age of überveillance”, Computer Communications 31(6), 2008, pp. 1192-1199.

[6]     K. Michael, R. Clarke, “Location and Tracking of Mobile Devices: Überveillance Stalks the Streets”, Computer Law & Security Review, 29(3), June 2013, pp. 216-228.