September 6, 2011

28% of American adults use mobile and social location-based services

More than a quarter of all American adults use mobile or social location-based services

Smartphone owners, younger users, and minorities are most likely to use location services

WASHINGTON (SEPTEMBER 6, 2011) – More than a quarter (28%) of all American adults use mobile or social location-based services of some kind. This includes anyone who takes part in one or more of the following activities:

  • 28% of cell owners use phones to get directions or recommendations based on their current location.
  • A much smaller number (5% of cell owners) use their phones to check in to locations using geosocial services such as Foursquare or Gowalla. Smartphone owners are especially likely to use these services on their phones, with 12% doing so.
  • 9% of internet users set up social media services such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn so that their location is automatically included in their posts on those services.

Taken together, 28% of U.S. adults do at least one of these activities either on a computer or using their mobile phones—and many users do several of them. These figures come from a new national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and represent Project’s most expansive study of location services to date.

 Summary table

“Americans are not currently all that eager to share explicitly their location on social media sites, but they are taking advantage of their phones’ geolocation capabilities in other ways,” said Kathryn Zickuhr, Pew Internet Project research specialist and co-author of the report. “Smartphone owners are using their phones to get fast access to location-relevant information on-the-go.”

Several groups have higher-than-average rates of location service usage, including:

  • Smartphone owners – One in ten smartphone owners (12%) have used a geosocial (“check in”) service such as Foursquare or Gowalla, and 55% of smartphone owners have used a location-based information service to get directions, recommendations, or other information based on their current location.
  • Almost six in ten smartphone owners (58%) use at least one of these services. These are all well above the average for cell owners as a whole.
  • Younger users – Smartphone owners ages 18-49 are more likely than those over 50 to use either geosocial or location-based services on their phones. There are no significant differences among social media users by age in regard to automatic location-tagging.
  • Non-whites – Geosocial services and automatic location-tagging are most popular with minorities, continuing a trend of mobile connectivity that has been seen in other Pew Internet surveys. Hispanics are the most active in these two activities, with a quarter (25%) of Latino smartphone owners using geosocial services and almost a third (31%) of Latino social media users enabling automatic location-tagging. However, though only 7% of white smartphone owners use geosocial services, 59% get location-based information on their phones, compared with 53% of blacks and 44% of Hispanics.

About this survey

  • This report is based on the results of a nationally representative telephone survey of 2,277 American adults (age 18+) conducted April 26-May 22, 2011.
  • Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish, by landline and cell phone.
  • For results based on all adults, the margin of error is +/-2 percentage points.