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Chapter 2 The Ethics of Tracking

DOI: 10.23912/9781911635383-4566

ISBN: 9781911635383

Published: Nov 2020

Component type: chapter

Published in: Tracking Tourists

Parent DOI: 10.23912/9781911635383-4277



Research that tracks tourists’ movement challenges our perception of ethics, privacy, and consent. The introduction of technology with the capability to track tourists in fine grained detail is viewed by some as a gross invasion of privacy, by others as a personal safety mechanism, and is treated by others with almost complete ambivalence. Importantly, in the past fifteen years we have witnessed a great change in the way in which tracking has been viewed by study participants and the general public, along with many mysterious contradictions in our acceptance or resistance to privacy – possibly fuelled by media attention around this issue. In the early 2000s, apps began emerging that conducted GPS tracking covertly in the background. For example, flash light applications (henceforth referred to as ‘apps’) that many of us had on our mobile phones, appeared to be a useful app. However, the business model of these apps was that they tracked users’ movements in the background of the app and on-sold this data to marketing companies. Similarly, The Weather Channel app was recently exposed for on-selling tracking data that was covertly collected, resulting in a legal case against its owner, IBM. In 2017, it was estimated that 70% of apps track and share user information with third parties (Vallina-Roderigue and Sundaresan, 2017). While there is resistance to some forms of tracking, there appears to be acceptance of other types. Strava is one such example. It is estimated that each week, 8 million activities are uploaded onto the app (Goode, 2017). Every 40 days, the app adds one million users (Craft, 2018). It is used by recreational hikers, bikers and runners, who wish to track and share their activities. It is widely known that the business model of Strava is built upon on-selling this data to cities and councils. This practice seems to be widely accepted by users.

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Hardy, 2020

Hardy, A. (2020) "Chapter 2 The Ethics of Tracking" In: Hardy, A. (ed) . Oxford: Goodfellow Publishers http://dx.doi.org/10.23912/9781911635383-4566


Australian Government and Universities Australia. (2018) National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research 2007 (updated 2018). Australian Government, Canberra. Available from https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/ publications/national-statement-ethical-conduct-human-research-2007- updated-2018 [Accessed 27th August 2019].

Craft, S. (2018) With time at Instagram and Facebook to leverage, Strava CEO James Quarles wants to make his fitness tracking app a community for the most engaged athletes in the world, In The Black, 01 May, Available at: https://www.intheblack.com/articles/2018/05/01/james-quarles-strava [Accessed 13 August, 2020]

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Goode, L. (2017) Fitness app Strava really, really wants to be the social network for athletes, The Verge, May 2, 2017, Available at: https://www.theverge. com/2017/5/2/15511118/strava-fitness-tracking-app-athlete-posts-social-network [Accessed 13 August, 2020].

Hardy, A. and Wells, M. (2019) Recruiting Tracking Participants in Skåne, Sweden. Unpublished report for Tourism Skåne. Hardy, A., Hyslop, S., Booth, K., Robards, B., Aryal, J., Gretzel, U. and Eccleston, R. (2017) Tracking tourists' travel with smartphone-based GPS technology: a methodological discussion, Journal of Information Technology & Tourism, 17(3), 255-274.


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Townsend, L. and Wallace, C. (2016) Social media research: A guide to ethics, University of Aberdeen working paper, Available at: https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/Media_487729_smxx.pdf. [Accessed 4 February, 2020].

Vallina-Roderiguez, N. and Sundaresan, S. (2017) 7 in 10 smartphone apps share your data with third-party services, The Conversation, May 30, Available at: http://theconversation.com/7-in-10-smartphone-apps-share-your-data-with-third-party-services-72404 [Accessed 6th July, 2020].


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Published in Tracking Tourists

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