Location Data Selling Threatens Consumer Privacy | Data Management

By John P. Mello Jr.

Dec 11, 2018 5:00 AM PT

Promoting location knowledge collected by cell phones has grow to be a profitable enterprise, The New York Instances reported Monday.

Location promoting gross sales are anticipated to achieve US$21 billion this yr, in line with the article. A minimum of 75 firms obtain nameless, exact location knowledge from purposes with the placement providers function activated.

A number of of these outfits declare to trace 200 million cellular gadgets in the US — about half of all gadgets within the nation, the Instances reported.

The information could be very correct, coming inside a couple of yards of an individual’s whereabouts at a cut-off date, and is up to date typically — as incessantly as 14,00zero occasions a day, the paper famous.

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

“In case you are amassing an individual’s location over time, and it is tied to a novel identifier, it is disingenuous to name that nameless,” mentioned Natasha Duarte, a coverage analyst with the Heart for Democracy & Know-how in Washington, D.C.

“You probably have details about the place persons are going and the place individuals reside, you may construct the story of who that location knowledge belongs to,” she instructed TechNewsWorld.

Somebody can study lots about you out of your location, mentioned French Caldwell, CFO of
The Analyst Syndicate, an IT analysis and evaluation group.

“They’ll inform what your pursuits are and who you are assembly with,” he instructed TechNewsWorld. “Your location knowledge tells extra about you than your Social Safety quantity.”

Not So Nameless

Companies that acquire client knowledge sometimes say they don’t seem to be curious about people however in patterns. Knowledge collected on people is “anonymized” by attaching it to an ID quantity. Nevertheless, that ID does not even have the quilt of a fig leaf for anybody with entry to uncooked location knowledge.

These individuals, who embrace workers or clients of the info collector, nonetheless may determine people with out their consent, because the Instances did in compiling its report.

Not surprisingly, the leaders in location-based promoting are Google and Fb. Each firms supply cellular apps that they use to gather location knowledge. They are saying they do not promote it however use it solely internally, to personalize providers, promote focused adverts on-line, and decide if the adverts result in gross sales within the bodily world.

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

Some massive firms have began to get in entrance of the placement knowledge subject earlier than it turns into an issue for them. For instance, Verizon and AT&T introduced throughout the summer time that they’d cease promoting their clients’ location knowledge to knowledge brokers.

Misleading Omissions

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

“Not all app notices are completely clear as to what location knowledge is getting used for,” CDT’s Duarte mentioned.

“Typically the app will ask, ‘Would you like us to make use of your location to offer you native climate data, or personalize your expertise, or enhance the accuracy of the maps that you just’re utilizing?’ They do not record all the opposite functions the info can be used for — like promoting and gross sales to 3rd events,” she identified.

Some 1,400 well-liked purposes comprise code to share location data, the Instances 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 in search of permission to entry the service, the Instances discovered.

Creepiness Issue

Understanding what’s executed with location knowledge may be an onerous activity for a client. It requires studying consumer agreements and privateness insurance policies, and altering settings for all of the apps on a telephone.

“That may be extremely time-consuming,” Duarte mentioned. “No particular person has the capability to do this correctly, and it is not a burden we ought to be inserting on people to rely upon location-based providers.”

How involved are customers about doable abuse of their location data?

“Most customers do not care, however there is a creepiness issue that bothers them a little bit bit,” mentioned The Analyst Syndicate’s Caldwell.

“We have all been on the Net and checked out a brand new pair of sneakers or one thing, and abruptly all you see in your browser for hours are adverts for these issues,” he continued.

“The identical sort of factor is going on along with your bodily location,” Caldwell identified. “Shops are monitoring your location and can begin pushing recommendations to you primarily based on the place you went in that retailer. There is a creepiness issue there.”

Laws Wanted

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

“The issue is not that buyers usually are not involved,” she mentioned.

“It is that even if you happen to’re very involved, it is inconceivable for anybody to have the capability and time to know all of the issues firms are doing along with your knowledge, after which go into your settings and make the alternatives that align completely along with your private privateness pursuits,” Duarte defined.

“What actually must occur is for our legal guidelines to acknowledge that location privateness in a business context needs to be constructed into any service,” she urged.

Congress ought to cross a business privateness legislation, “which would come with limits on how firms can acquire and use location data,” Duarte mentioned.

Such a legislation may embrace provisions already adopted in Europe’s Common Knowledge Safety Regulation, which permit individuals to entry data firms have collected about them, appropriate data if it is used to make essential selections about them, and delete data.

One space the place U.S. lawmakers might need 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 info.

“Some makes use of of knowledge should not be allowed even with consent,” Duarte mentioned. “A type of makes use of could be repurposing of location data — amassing the knowledge for a location-based service, then reusing it for one thing fully unrelated — like location-based promoting — or promoting it to a knowledge dealer.”


John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT Information Community reporter
since 2003. His areas of focus embrace cybersecurity, IT points, privateness, e-commerce, social media, synthetic intelligence, large knowledge and client electronics. He has written and edited for quite a few publications, together with the Boston Enterprise Journal, the
Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Web and Authorities
Safety Information
. Electronic mail John.


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