Fresh Comics is a free application created for comic book enthusiasts that allows them to stay current with the industry’s weekly releases, as well as find comic shops in their current vicinity. This page describes the geographic information that Fresh Comics collects and how that data is used within the app and in later analysis.
How does Fresh Comics use location data?
To implement a live store locator that uses your current location to identify local shops of interest, Fresh Comics must have a latitude & longitude coordinate to know where to look. Since pinpoint accuracy is not needed for this purpose, Fresh Comics only requests the coarsest location information from the underlying device platform. Coarse location data also enjoys the advantage of using less battery power to collect. On the various platforms (iOS, Android, etc.), Fresh Comics typically registers a location listener that requests that it only be updated with the current location when the device has moved a mile or more.
When Fresh Comics receives a new location update from the underlying device, it checks to see if it has network connectivity, and then searches for nearby stores from our online shop database. If there is no network available, Fresh Comics simply waits for the next location update and tries again. Aside from the latest location update used to fetch local shops, Fresh Comics does not log any previous locations within the application or elsewhere on the device.
When Fresh Comics requests a list of local stores in an area, it communicates with an online server and sends it four pieces of information: the device’s latitude, longitude, the IP address and a user-agent string. Since there’s no reason that we need the IP address (this is sent automatically as part of the network exchange), we discard that information and do not use it in any later analysis. The user-agent identifies the software making the request. In the case of Fresh Comics, it looks something like
Fresh Comics 2.1.1 (Android)
No other information is included in user-agent string, such as a unique identifier, device model, or phone number – just the version of the app and the underlying host platform.
On the server side, Fresh Comics uses the location provided to search its database for local stores. The database returns a list of the closest matches, and the server logs the latitude, longitude, user-agent and date of request for later analysis. Finally it returns the results to the device that renders the information as an updated list of stores in the stores tab.
Why log latitude, longitude, user-agent, and date of access?
Fresh Comics logs this information to a private server so that we know how to prioritize our efforts in expanding and maintaining our shop database. If we know that there is significant usage in New York City while no one uses the app in Denver, we know where we need to focus more our attention to better serve the active users. Since we don’t have an infinite army of clones to send out to do our bidding (drat!), the geographic information that we collect helps us spend our limited resources much more intelligently.
In the future, we will be releasing an update that includes a feature where shop owners can pay us to list any upcoming events (artist signings, sales, etc.) in the store locator for local users. Since shop owners operate on a finite budget, it’s important that we be able to provide them with some aggregate-level statistics that describe the Fresh Comics usage in their area so that they can make better decisions about whether there’s enough activity to justify the advertising expenditure. We want to be completely transparent and up-front about the actual level of Fresh Comics usage in a given area, and we use logged location information to do that.
When we share any geographic data with third parties (such as local shop owners), we intentionally degrade the precision of the location information to two decimal places (45.12 degrees vs. 45.123456789 degrees). This “downsampling” essentially creates a grid where no location can be represented closer than 0.7 mi. to any adjacent location (north-to-south) and approximately 0.5 mi. (east-to-west). While we may have the more precise data in our private database, we do not share that with third parties.
Can I be personally identified based on my usage?
The information that we collect is insufficient to derive any individual user’s identity. In areas where there are very few users, we can speculate whether a sequence of queries may be associated with a single person, but we will never know whether our hypothesis is correct. This is intentional by design – we don’t need to know who our users are, and would rather not invite liability by capturing & storing information we don’t need.
Can I opt-out without losing functionality?
While we designed Fresh Comics with a full understanding of the consequences of using location data to implement our store locator, we understand that our design decisions may not be right for everyone.
Rather than create a binary choice where you have to choose to share your location to use the locator versus withholding that information and not using the locator, Fresh Comics includes a compromise for concerned users. In the latest versions of Fresh Comics, there is a preference setting where you can set your location manually by specifying a local US postal code. Since the apps ship with a database of postal codes and an approximate location for each, your postal code’s location is substituted for any coordinates provided by the device. When we use postal code coordinates, we actually ask your device to stop sending us all location information.
Setting this option allows you to continue using the shop locator while remaining confident that the only information Fresh Comics has is at the level of your postal code. The two downsides of using this option is that the location isn’t updated when you go somewhere else and any distance calculations are done using your postal code’s location instead of your own, so things like the order of the shops (typically closest to farthest) and your distance from them will be inaccurate.
I have other concerns – who should I talk to?
If you have any other questions or concerns that you would like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.