An Empirical Study on the Effectiveness of Privacy Indicators


"The increasing diffusion of mobile devices and their integration with sophisticated hardware and software components has promoted the development of numerous applications in which developers find new ingenious ways to exploit the possibilities offered by the access to resources such as cameras, biometric sensors, and GPS receivers. As a result, we are increasingly used to seeing applications that make extensive use of sensitive resources, potentially dangerous for our privacy. To address this problem, the latest approach to support user awareness in terms of privacy is represented by the Privacy Indicators (PI), a software solution implemented by the operating system to provide a visual stimulus to inform users whenever a dangerous resource is exploited by the app. However, the effectiveness of this approach has not been assessed yet. In this article, we present the result of a study on the effectiveness of using the PI to inform the user every time an app accesses the mobile device camera or microphone. We have chosen these two resources as the PI are currently implemented only for a very limited number of permissions. The controlled experiment involved 122 Android users who were asked to complete a series of tasks on their smartphone through prototypes using the involved resources in an explicit and latent way. Although the PI mechanism is very similar between Android and iOS, we have decided to focus on the former due to its greater diffusion. The results show no significant correlation between the use of PI and the detection of the resource being used by the app, suggesting that the effectiveness of PI in improving sensitive-related resources usage awareness, as currently implemented, is still unsatisfactory. In order to understand if the problem was due to the specific implementation of the PI, we implemented an enhanced version and compared it with the standard one. The results confirmed that an implementation that makes the indicators more visible and that is clearer in highlighting the fact that the app is accessing a resource improves the resources usage awareness."


  • Michele Guerra

  • Simone Scalabrino

  • Fausto Fasano

  • Rocco Oliveto

  • DOI: 10.1109/TSE.2023.3308392

  • 28 August, 2023 - In IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering ( Early Access )

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"An Empirical Study on the Effectiveness of Privacy Indicators"