The app was designed to help minimise the so-called Hawthorne Effect, where people make changes to their behaviour in response to visible surveillance. Food safety inspectors and researchers carrying clipboards, cameras and other obvious observational tools are likely to create the Effect, which can influence results significantly.
The Penn State researchers found that people are so accustomed to the use of smartphones and tablets in public places that it is not questioned. The new app allows food safety inspectors to collect data and add photos, video and audio and open-ended notes to their reports and includes features that help document their concealed observations of hygiene practices and behaviour.
A survey showed that 95% of participants thought that a clipboard in a retail setting suggested that they were being evaluated, whereas none made the same assumptions about a smartphone.
The research is published in the journal Food Protection Trends and an abstract can be found here.