Jun 17 AT 1:51 PM Edgar Cervantes 8 Comments

Biggest Android usage study researching smartphone habits – are you in?

One of the best things about Android is the sense of community among its users. We’re sharing locations with each other, updating our status in social networks and messaging each other all day long. The sense of community doesn’t end there, though. How many times have you taken time to help a fellow Android user? Whether it’s for simple things like recommending an app or spending hours trying to root a device, I’ve noticed we’re always there for each other. Just how far are you willing to go for the Android community, though? Would you be willing to share all your smartphone habits for Android usage research?

This is exactly what PhD student Daniel Wagner at the University of Cambridge (UK) is doing, and anyone with an Android device can be part of this research. Upon becoming part of this project, the participant would consent to share information about device usage with the University. This information goes quite deep. It includes data like how often the phone is charged, quantity and length of calls/texts, which applications are being used, which networks the device is connected to, usage of WiFi and bluetooth and even the device’s settings.

These are only some of the things the University would have access to. Imagine what else they could find out. Android smartphones are not only powerful, but they hold powerful information. I personally have credit card information, access to all my networks, schedules, calendar info, etc. Needless to say, I’m very careful about who I allow to access my device. In a world of hackers, stalkers and “e-thieves,” many Android users hesitate to even share their location with Google. Is the University of Cambridge doing anything to keep people safe?

We know we can’t provide the participants with a guarantee of anonymity, however we do remove strongly identifying data before publicly releasing it, and we are giving participants information about what we collect and the means to opt-out retroactively. If the data collection concerns or worries you, it is easy to have your data removed permanently.Dr. Alastair BeresfordUniversity of Cambridge

As Dr. Beresford mentions, you’re not exactly imprisoned with the research after you agree to give them your information. In an effort to make participants more comfortable, the University gives them the option to opt out if they feel like surrendering certain data could be harmful in any way. Users have continuous access to all the data the University is recording, and no information is made public until after 3 months’ participating in the research. Before this 3-month deadline, one can simply opt out of the study. All private data would then be removed, along with any record of participation.

What do participants gain from this? There’s no immediate satisfaction, but this study will be made available to everyone at no price. Manufacturers could take this data into consideration when making your next favorite device. Such information would help manufacturers optimize device performance and battery life, based on the way we use smartphones as a whole. Aside from helping the Android community, participants could also improve their device management, as they would be able to access this information at any time. This aids in improving your own battery life, which is a big issue in the Android universe as we all know.

Currently, there are more than one thousand people participating in this study–comparatively few when you consider how many Android devices are being activated daily (about 400,000). Regardless, it’s good to see Android studies are now starting to show up, as they can substantially improve future devices. If you trust the University of Cambridge with your information, sign up at http://deviceanalyzer.cl.cam.ac.uk and become part of this research. Anyone out there willing to get in on the action? Would you guys be comfortable sharing your private info with university students?

Source: University of Cambridge

Hello, I am Edgar Cervantes. I am an avid Android fan, and keeping myself updated on the topic is part of my daily life. I will always work hard to give the best of me to our community of Android enthusiasts, and I am very honored to be part of this ship. Hopefully we can all enjoy sharing our knowledge and opinions!

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  • http://Website cabbiebot

    I assume that this entails installing an app that monitors usage in the background and if its poorly coded (and maybe even well coded) it could be
    1) a battery killer, and therefoer
    2) render the findings not useful

  • Edgar Cervantes

    I am sure any type of information would be useful for the research. After all, I am sure there are many people out there that partake in watching such content, so it certainly affects smartphone usage/performance.

  • http://Website JaylanPHNX

    My concern is less what they do with the data and more how they protect it. While I can certainly believe that the researchers have the greatest of intentions with this study, I fear that with every company and their governments getting hacked for personal data these days, the risk may just be too great.

  • http://Website Timbo

    It’s not the first. Nielsen have been doing this for about a year for Nokia, and they pay £50 a year for the data!

  • http://Website Mark

    I REALLY, REALLY do want to help him out and sign up but I just can’t offer up my personal information and life. Sorry, you can’t put a price on that. Why not pick up a different research topic instead. Somethings don’t need to made public.

  • http://www.phonetipsandtricks.com PhoneTipsAndTricks

    This research could go along to way to designing or tweaking operating system usability. I wonder if the University had considered collaborating with OS manufacturers

  • Snafu77

    Unfortunately, security and privacy concerns exclude my being able to participate. A university affiliation does not assure us that proper ethical and data security standards will be followed.

  • http://deviceanalyzer.cl.cam.ac.uk Daniel Wagner

    Hi everyone, I’m the developer of Device Analyzer and thought I should try to address some of the interesting points raised in this article and the comments.

    The data we collect is stripped of personally identifying information *before* it is uploaded to our server. Phone numbers or wifi networks, for example, are hashed and the actual numbers are never uploaded. You can find more details about what we collect and what is hashed on the Device Analyzer website (http://deviceanalyzer.cl.cam.ac.uk).

    This means that for the vast majority of people no one is able to identify you. One way how someone might work around this is to target someone specific they know: Say you know that your friend Bob uses Device Analyzer. One night you decide to call him 30 times in a row. Then after a few months – provided that Bob agreed to have his data published – we publish a big dataset with all users who agreed to have their data published. You can then search for someone who received 30 phone calls in a row and can identify your friend. However, there is not much we can do about this, other than not publishing any data and therefore not giving other researchers the opportunity to benefit from this dataset.

    Now, if someone hacked into the server and got access to the data they would still not see phone numbers (or websites for that matter, we do not collect your browsing history!), no matter if they manage to copy every last bit we have stored about you.

    Lastly, concerning the battery life: I have done my best to keep battery use low. On my own phone I is usually less than 2% (doesn’t even show up on the battery use indicator) but I have seen values as high as 5%, depending on how you use your phone. If you use your screen a lot then the comparative use of Device Analyzer is very little. If your phone is mostly idle and waiting for data then the percentage of your battery that it uses is higher.

    Yes, we are talking with Google and Qualcomm (surely others will follow soon) who are both very interested in the dataset and we are looking at ways to collaborate. If you happen to read this and are a major phone manufacturer or similar please don’t hesitate to contact us ;)

    All this being said, I can understand that everyone feels very strongly about their own personal data – especially considering recent news stories – and if you choose to not participate in my study then I can understand this.

    Thank you, Android And Me, for the well-written article and support! :)