Smartphones Tracking Industry Is Thriving: Is It Good For Our Privacy?


Tracking people's movements through their smartphones, collecting their data, and selling it to third-parties have an entire thriving industry. In a few countries, like the US, tracking, collecting, and selling data is legal and isn't very hard to do. The New York Times reports that the data is supposedly anonymous, but it's easy to find to the real person.

Smartphone Tracking Industry: Details

Smartphone Tracking Industry: Details

For a common, non-technical user, they would likely be tiny dots on a map stored away on a server of a company, which they've never heard of. The New York Times analysis examined a data file containing nearly 50 billion location pings of more than 12 million people in the US, which is "by far the largest" ever reviewed by journalists.

The report states that the data comes from an undisclosed source and belongs to neither the government nor a telecom company. However, this data comes from many location data companies that track movement through the software installed on smartphones, whether the user knows it or not.

Some names like Foursquare are somewhat familiar, but there are others like Skyhook and PlaceIQ that are probably never heard of for the vast majority of the people. For instance, the data of the user's daily commute, from home to the workplace, would be easy to collect.

Tracking Data: Nothing To Stop It

Tracking Data: Nothing To Stop It

The report states that data and users can easily be tracked with the help of publicly available information like easily identified addresses, home addresses, and so on. "We followed military officials with security clearances as they drove home at night. We tracked law enforcement officers as they took their kids to school. We watched high-powered lawyers (and their guests) as they traveled from private jets to vacation properties," the report states.

However, one of the location companies mentioned in the report that it doesn't resell detailed data and Foursquare also claims the same thing. However, readers should note that other data companies do sell detailed data and there's no law preventing it. In case of a data leak, it could get into the hands of a hacker and use it for criminal purposes and even sell it in the darknet.

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