Alexander Wenz, Florian Keusch, Ruben L. Bach

Measuring Smartphone Use: Survey Versus Digital Behavioral Data

  • Law
  • Library and Information Sciences
  • Computer Science Applications
  • General Social Sciences

While digital technology use and skills have typically been measured with surveys, digital behavioral data that are passively collected from individuals’ digital devices have recently emerged as an alternative method of measuring technology usage patterns in a more unobtrusive and detailed way. In this paper, we evaluate how passively collected smartphone usage data compare to self-reported measures of smartphone use, considering the three usage dimensions amount of use, variety of use, and activities of use. Based on a sample of smartphone users in Germany who completed a survey and had a tracking app installed on their smartphone, we find that the alignment between the survey and digital behavioral data varies by dimension of smartphone use. Whereas amount of use is considerably overreported in the survey data, variety of use aligns more closely across the two data sources. For activities of use, the alignment differs by type of activity. The results also show that the alignment between survey and digital behavioral data is systematically related to individuals’ sociodemographic characteristics, including age, gender, and educational attainment. Finally, latent class analyses conducted separately for the survey and digital behavioral data suggest similar typologies of smartphone use, although the overlap between the typologies on the individual level is rather small.

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