Why location services have to be done right…

uTest describes itself as the world&#39s largest marketplace for software testing services. Recently it held a Bug Battle to test the web and mobile applications of the leading “check-in” location services. A Bug Battle is a quarterly app testing competition, where “software professionals from around the world compete to find bugs and rank today&#39s popular applications” (previous Bug Battles have focused on browsers, search engines, social networking sites, etc.

When evaluating location-based check-in services, testers were given ten days in May to report the most interesting and severe bugs, and to rank these applications based on

  • geo-location accuracy,
  • social media integration,
  • friend connectivity,
  • status recognition features and
  • ease-of use

uTest offered nearly $4,000 in prize money to those who submitted the best bugs for feedback.
The results of the battle, which rated Foursquare, Gowalla and Brightkite, are detailed here.

The report includes comments by people who clearly love the service. For example:

“The Gowalla app and web interface themselves are easy on the eyes, and venues get their own snazzy icon depicting what type of establishment it is. I feed my Gowalla check-ins to Facebook, and having an image that catches attention in a cluttered news feed matters. The user can see everyone who has checked in at a particular venue and how many times.”

But one clear outcome is that many testers reported serious bugs related to privacy and security – a category not present in the original list:

“The impact of check-in services on personal privacy and security took on a prominent role in this study. 80% of respondents responded “Yes” when asked if they were concerned about how location-based check-in services could impact their personal privacy and safety. Nearly half of respondents (49%) chose “privacy and security concerns” as the top reason they do not use check-in services more often.”

VentureBeat, which wrote about the report, concludes:

In addition to appreciating easy-to-use services and bemoaning the lack of Frappuccino deals, the testers seem to be concerned about the privacy and security implications of check-in services in general. 49% of testers said privacy and security concerns were the top reason they don’t use check-in services more often. This is something the check-in services need to address if they want to avoid privacy flames like the ones Facebook is constantly fighting.

These services can be built so as to respect and enhance privacy.  Things like giant world databases linking our devices to our home locations don&#39t help convince anyone that we are doing that.

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