Location Data Sales Are Out Of Control, And Should Be Made Illegal

By | 30/08/2022

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The sale of location information has become both big business concern and i of the biggest privacy threats in recent years. While the companies involved in this $14 billion manufacture claim that only aggregated and anonymized data is sold, numerous studies have shown that this is simply not true.

Yesterday we learned that the Federal Trade Commission is suing a information broker that can identify people seeking abortions, and that it has fabricated samples of that data publicly bachelor. In the by, we’ve seen how location information can reveal everything from where police officers’ children go to school to The states troop movements in war zones…

How do companies get location data?

Location data can be collected in several different ways.


First, and most obviously, by apps when we give permission to access our location. For example, a conditions app cannot be used unless we permit it run across where we are so it tin can prove local weather. When we allow location access, the app so has straight admission to our iPhone’s location information—including GPS admission—which can identify our position within a few hundred meters.

Cell towers

Cellular providers can encounter which prison cell towers are within range of our iPhone, even when nosotros’re not really using them. Towers regularly ping our phones to see where they are, to know which cells to utilize when we receive a call, and triangulation typically allows operators to locate us within a few hundred anxiety—and sometimes much more precisely, in decorated areas served by microcells.

Wi-Fi network

Of grade, if nosotros connect to a public hotspot, the owner of that hotspot knows nosotros’re in range, narrowing down our location to a small area. Merely databases of router SSIDs—both public and private—can allow companies to locate us with great precision.

IP address

Every fourth dimension you connect to a website or another server without using a VPN, your IP accost is visible to the server. It can reveal your location within a general area at to the lowest degree, and sometimes more precisely.

Don’t they need permission?

Not necessarily.

It depends on the local law where you are – or where the company is based. But even in Europe, with its ultra-strict GDPR privacy constabulary, consent is merely one of six grounds for collecting personal data, including your location.

The others are performance of a contract, a legitimate interest, a vital involvement, a legal requirement and a public interest. These are all defined in fairly broad terms.

In other countries or states, in that location may be well-nigh no legal protection at all.

But you probably gave permission anyway

Every fourth dimension you install an app and accept the terms, you give the programmer permission to practice what it says it will practice in those terms or privacy policy.

No one e’er reads the fine print, and very oftentimes information technology contains a clause with some vague language that the developer can share your data with “partners”. Information technology may non be obvious (and in fact it’southward non meant to be), just this includes selling your data to data brokers who and so sell information technology on to others.

Developers are highly incentivized to do this and earn anywhere from $12K to $1M per year from these sales.

What is the solution?

Over the years, Apple has tightened privacy requirements for app developers through things like App Tracking Transparency and App Privacy labels.

Only developers are nonetheless free to do pretty much anything they like, provided they check the appropriate boxes – and many of them are simply lying.

I would debate that we need a specific federal constabulary (and similar in other countries) to explicitly prohibit the sale and purchase of location data.

In an ideal world, this would be just 1 office of a much broader federal privacy constabulary — but it could accept years earlier politicians can hold on the terms of this, if ever. It should be much easier to concord on this 1 matter: You may not sell my location to a 3rd party, nor may you buy my location from a 3rd party. Period.

Do you agree? Please take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments.

Photograph: Asawin/PxHere

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