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IU’s Kinsey Institute wants the skinny on Valentine’s Day with app

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 - 6:58 am

A smartphone app from Indiana University's Kinsey Institute is asking what people want on Valentine's Day — and it's not focusing just on flowers and chocolate.

The Kinsey Reporter, a mobile application that launched briefly in 2012 before being shut down for a legal review of its privacy functions, has added a survey on sexual behavior during Valentine's Day as a way to reboot. After a comeback in May 2013, it wasn't until a few months ago that all the bugs were worked out of the program, according to Filippo Menczer, the director of IU's Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research, who helped design the app.

“The more data we have, the more we can slice and dice the data,” Menczer said. Researchers, with more responses, hope to look at patterns of sexual behavior linked to age and location, and even national policies on birth control.

The app can be downloaded from the Apple iOS Store or Google Play for Android devices.

The Valentine's Day survey questions respondents on what they want to happen during the holiday. Then they want to know what actually happened — sexually.

All of the information is collected anonymously.

While researchers would like to have user accounts for tracking purposes, they can't be made in the app, and responses aren't analyzed until a certain number of surveys have been collected from certain locations. Once there is a “critical mass,” Menczer said, researchers can aggregate data and compare it with the Valentine's Day survey to see how hopes and expectations match with reality.

The survey asks questions like “What does one's heart most desire for Valentine's Day?” Possible answers range from “left alone” to “companionship,” “commitment” to “sex.” The app also asks about “actual sexual activity” on the lovers' holiday.

Menczer said surveys have been filled out by people in at least 45 countries, but much of the data is not mapped or charted because there are not enough responses to make it statistically relevant.

Users can identify themselves by country, state or city; because respondents who register by country will be part of a larger pool, their data will come out of the “queue” earlier, Menczer said, but any user who identify themselves by city or town will have their information hidden until more responses come from that location.

After IU's lawyers and outside counsel took a second look at the app, Menczer said, they found it met their privacy concerns. One of the other goals of the survey is to study “unwanted experiences,” crimes such as sexual assault and rape, and there was fear that researchers could be compelled by law enforcement to provide data if responses could be traced back to their source.

Menczer said encryption built into the app prevents those links from being drawn, but anonymous data from unwanted sexual experiences could provide researchers with important information about why and how these incidents occur and how many go unreported.

“We know, unfortunately, there is a huge cost for victims in coming forward, dealing with the police, the shame, the trials,” Menczer said. “We know it's terrible, and many people just try to forget it.

“But we hope if they have the app, and if they know they can help others by reporting it anonymously on the app, at least we've lowered the cost, and we can know what happened and how it happened.”

Menczer said Monday there have been 232 incidents so far of unwanted sexual experiences reported on the app, including incidents in Canada, India, the United Kingdom and Chile.