Location Data Selling Threatens Consumer Privacy

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Location Data Selling Threatens Consumer Privacy

Selling location knowledge collected by cellphones has turn out to be a profitable enterprise, The New York Times reported Monday.

Location promoting gross sales are anticipated to achieve US$21 billion this 12 months, in line with the article. At least 75 firms obtain nameless, exact location knowledge from purposes with the situation providers characteristic activated.

Several of these outfits declare to trace 200 million cell units within the United States — about half of all units within the nation, the Times reported.

The knowledge may be very correct, coming inside a number of yards of an individual’s whereabouts at a cut-off date, and is up to date typically — as ceaselessly as 14,000 occasions a day, the paper famous.

With that sort of accuracy and frequency, calling the information “anonymous” is a bit deceptive.

“If you are collecting a person’s location over time, and it’s tied to a unique identifier, it’s disingenuous to call that anonymous,” stated Natasha Duarte, a coverage analyst with the Center for Democracy & Technology in Washington, D.C.

“If you have information about where people are going and where people live, you can build the story of who that location data belongs to,” she instructed TechNewsWorld.

Someone can study quite a bit about you out of your location, stated French Caldwell, CFO of The Analyst Syndicate, an IT analysis and evaluation group.

“They can tell what your interests are and who you’re meeting with,” he instructed TechNewsWorld. “Your location data tells more about you than your Social Security number.”

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Not So Anonymous

Businesses that accumulate shopper knowledge sometimes say they are not fascinated with people however in patterns. Data collected on people is “anonymized” by attaching it to an ID quantity. However, that ID would not even have the duvet of a fig leaf for anybody with entry to uncooked location knowledge.

Those folks, who embrace staff or prospects of the information collector, nonetheless might determine people with out their consent, because the Times did in compiling its report.

Not surprisingly, the leaders in location-based promoting are Google and Facebook. Both firms provide cell apps that they use to gather location knowledge. They say they do not promote it however use it solely internally, to personalize providers, promote focused advertisements on-line, and decide if the advertisements result in gross sales within the bodily world.

Google didn’t reply to a request for remark for this story. Facebook, by spokesperson Jay Nancarrow, declined to remark.

Some massive firms have began to get in entrance of the situation knowledge problem earlier than it turns into an issue for them. For instance, Verizon and AT&T introduced in the course of the summer season that they might cease promoting their prospects’ location knowledge to knowledge brokers.

Deceptive Omissions

Most cell apps request permission to make use of a tool’s location providers earlier than accessing them, however the Times discovered that course of could possibly be deceptive. An app may ask for location providers entry for one goal however use the data for a number of functions.

“Not all app notices are perfectly clear as to what location data is being used for,” CDT’s Duarte stated.

“Often the app will ask, ‘Do you want us to use your location to provide you with local weather information, or personalize your experience, or improve the accuracy of the maps that you’re using?’ They don’t list all the other purposes the data will be used for — like advertising and sales to third parties,” she identified.

Some 1,400 in style purposes comprise code to share location info, the Times reported. About 1,200 had been written for Android telephones and 200 for Apple fashions.

In a pattern of 17 apps sending exact location knowledge, three Apple iOS packages and one Android providing talked about that location knowledge could possibly be used for promoting whereas searching for permission to entry the service, the Times discovered.

Creepiness Factor

Understanding what’s finished with location knowledge will be an onerous process for a shopper. It requires studying person agreements and privateness insurance policies, and altering settings for all of the apps on a cellphone.

“That can be incredibly time-consuming,” Duarte stated. “No individual has the capacity to do that properly, and it’s not a burden we should be placing on individuals to depend on location-based services.”

How involved are shoppers about potential abuse of their location info?

“Most consumers don’t care, but there’s a creepiness factor that bothers them a little bit,” stated The Analyst Syndicate’s Caldwell.

“We’ve all been on the Web and looked at a new pair of shoes or something, and all of sudden all you see in your browser for hours are ads for those things,” he continued.

“The same kind of thing is happening with your physical location,” Caldwell identified. “Stores are tracking your location and will start pushing suggestions to you based on where you went in that store. There’s a creepiness factor there.”

Legislation Needed

Consumers are very involved about what’s being finished with their location knowledge, maintained Duarte.

“The problem isn’t that consumers are not concerned,” she stated.

“It’s that even if you’re very concerned, it’s impossible for anyone to have the capacity and time to understand all the things companies are doing with your data, and then go into your settings and make the choices that align perfectly with your personal privacy interests,” Duarte defined.

“What really needs to happen is for our laws to recognize that location privacy in a commercial context has to be built into any service,” she advised.

Congress ought to move a industrial privateness regulation, “which would include limits on how companies can collect and use location information,” Duarte stated.

Such a regulation may embrace provisions already adopted in Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, which permit folks to entry info firms have collected about them, appropriate info if it is used to make vital choices about them, and delete info.

One space the place U.S. lawmakers might wish to depart from the GDPR is in consent. The European rule permits knowledge to be collected if consent is given by the proprietor of the information.

“Some uses of information shouldn’t be allowed even with consent,” Duarte stated. “One of those uses might be repurposing of location information — collecting the information for a location-based service, then reusing it for something completely unrelated — like location-based advertising — or selling it to a data broker.”


John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus embrace cybersecurity, IT points, privateness, e-commerce, social media, synthetic intelligence, massive knowledge and shopper electronics. He has written and edited for quite a few publications, together with the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.



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