IU prof: No problems with pulled sex research app
September 8, 2012 4:46PM
Updated: September 8, 2012 11:30PM
BLOOMINGTON (AP) — An Indiana University researcher is defending efforts to use smartphone technology to study sexual behaviors around the globe after university attorneys pulled the plug on the project amid privacy concerns.
Filippo Menczer, a professor of informatics and computer science, said the app developed for the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction was approved by a review board and vetted by technology and security advisers before it was launched in mid-August.
“The fact that it has been pulled should not be interpreted to mean that there was anything wrong with it,” he said.
IU pulled the app, which lets people worldwide anonymously report details about their sex lives, on Wednesday after general counsel Jackie Simmons voiced concerns about potential privacy issues, spokesman Mark Land told The Indianapolis Star.
Land said IU researchers and technology experts studied privacy issues, but Simmons hadn’t seen the app and wanted to make sure IU “is comfortable from a legal perspective.”
“We need to understand it,” he told The Associated Press.
The Kinsey Reporter app launched in mid-August after nearly a year in development, Menczer said.
It allows people to use free applications available for Apple and Android mobile platforms to answer surveys on topics ranging from public displays of affection to birth control and sexual violence. Nearly 1,000 responses had been submitted as of last week.
The data is meant to be available to anyone at www.kinseyreporter.org .
Menczer said there are about half a dozen surveys covering a variety of topics.
He said the survey on public displays of affection “may seem trivial” but noted that such displays are illegal in some countries, so data is of interest.
A survey on fetishes is meant to be “somewhat lighthearted,” he said, while one on sexual violence is intended to help researchers understand the prevalence of such acts around the world, especially in war zones.
He said all communications are encrypted and researchers don’t collect any information about those submitting surveys.
“We can’t tell if two reports are from the same person,” he said. “There’s no account, no cookie.”
Even the location of the user and time of submission aren’t exact, he said, noting that some users in small communities might choose to identify only their state, and time stamps are within 12 hours.
The app is a joint project of the Kinsey institute, the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing and the Pervasive Technology Institute.
Land said IU releases many apps, but few involve the kind of sensitive details the Kinsey app includes. He said there is no timetable for completing the legal review.
“There’s a great need to make sure this one is technically sound,” he said.
Menczer said he is confident that once the review is complete, “they will find that everything is fine and that they will let us publish it again.”