EVERYBODY RUNS: Your Smartphone Location-Aware Data Is Being Used And Sold Without Your Consent

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EDITOR’S NOTE: When the movie Minority Report was released back in 2007, audiences were thrilled to see the technological marvels that would come true for some future generation down the line. Funny thing is, though, just about everything shown in the movie has already come true, including the persistent mobile advertising that follows your every move. The every move of billions of people all being tracked and recorded by a personal device in their pocket…and it’s not even the mark of the beast yet. Imagine that.
It’s true that your smartphone’s location-tracking capabilities can be helpful, whether it’s alerting you to traffic or inclement weather. That utility is why so many of us are giving away a great deal more location data than we probably realize. Every time you say “yes” to an app that asks to know your location, you are also potentially authorizing that app to sell your data.

Dozens of companies track location and/or serve ads based on this data. They aim to compile a complete record of where everyone in America spends their time, in order to chop those histories into market segments to sell to corporate advertisers.
Marketers spent $16 billion on location-targeted ads served to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets in 2017. That’s 40% of all mobile ad spending, research firm BIA/Kelsey estimates, and it expects spending on these ads to double by 2021.
READ  JOEL KOTKIN: America’s Overdue to Unfriend Mark Zuckerberg: The tech boss is finally being recognized as the American villain he is, rather than the folk hero he’s tried to present himself as.

The data required to serve you any single ad may pass through many companies’ systems in milliseconds—from data broker to ad marketplace to an agency’s custom system. In part, this is just how online advertising works, where massive marketplaces hold ongoing high-speed auctions for ad space.
But the fragmentation also is due to a very real fear of the public backlash and legal liability that might occur if there were a breach. Imagine the Equifax breach, except instead of your Social Security number, it’s everywhere you’ve been, including your home, your workplace and your children’s schools.
The fix, at least for now, is that with most individual data vendors holding only parts of your data, your complete, identifiable profile is never all in one place. Giants like Google and Facebook , who do have all your data in one place, say they are diligent about throwing away or not gathering what they don’t need, and eliminating personally identifying information from the remainder.


If you’ve ever felt clever because an app on your phone asked to track your location and you said no, this should make you feel a little less smug: There are plenty of ways to track you without getting your permission. Some of the most intrusive are the easiest to implement.

Your telco knows where you are at all times, because it knows which cell towers your phone is near. In the U.S., how much data service-providers sell is up to them. 
Another way you can be tracked without your knowing it is through any open Wi-Fi hot spot you might pass. If your phone’s Wi-Fi is on, you’re constantly broadcasting a unique MAC address and a history of past Wi-Fi connections. Retailers sometimes use these addresses to identify repeat customers, and they can also use them to track you as you go from one of their stores to another.
WeatherBug, one of the most popular weather apps for Android and iPhone, is owned by the location advertising company GroundTruth. It’s a natural fit: Weather apps need to know where you are and provide value in exchange for that information. But it also means that app is gathering data on your location any time the app is open—and even when it isn’t, if you agreed to always let it track your location. That data is resold to others.

GroundTruth also gathers location data from “over a hundred thousand” other apps that have integrated bits of its code, says company president Serge Matta, who declined to disclose which apps. App makers agree to harvest location data because it grants them access to GroundTruth’s mobile advertising network.
This data is what enables marketers like Jack in the Box to push an advertiser’s message to potential customers near its restaurants. A typical engagement includes pushing location-based promotions or coupons through mobile ads, says Iwona Alter, Chief Marketing Officer of Jack in the Box.
Every month GroundTruth tracks 70 million people in the U.S. as they go to work in the morning, come home at night, surge in and out of public events, take vacations, you name it. source

1 thought on “EVERYBODY RUNS: Your Smartphone Location-Aware Data Is Being Used And Sold Without Your Consent

  1. Google and Facebook don’t throw anything away. Their entire business model is built on selling information about you to anybody that can foot the bill. This is why their services are “free” to you. It’s because it’s the data about you that is the product they sell to make money…. and lot’s of it. There are plenty of small players too that get you to install their “app” to do some mundane task such as letting you turn on the camera light. In exchange, you grant them access to most everything in your phone and what ever the phones sensors are picking up. Most people, especially younger ones and the less educated (and less cynical) load up on all sorts of silly apps and expose their entire personal profile to hundreds of data collection companies (Big Data). It’s much easier and cheaper for these companies to offer credit monitoring after a big breach than to hire experts to secure their systems. Hear of anybody at Equifax in danger of going to jail? Any fines that might be assessed won’t be coming out of the CEO’s salary/stock options and will only be a light slap on the wrist. The younger crowd with “nothing to hide” will mostly grow up and start families and then discover that they don’t want everybody with $4.95 of spare change to be able to know everything about where they have bank accounts, credit cards, if they rent vs own a home, where the kids go to school, their names, ages and medical issues, etc etc. It’s less about secrets and more about privacy.
    If you aren’t using location services, turn it off. Leave the wi-fi off when not in use and even shut off bluetooth if you don’t need it on at the moment. Be suspicious of any apps that want access to things on your phone that they don’t need to do their jobs. Out of the thousands of apps for any one function, two or three are going to be on the level. Think about what sort of damage somebody can do to your life if they steal your phone. The golden snatch is to get your phone while it’s unlocked. The thief can plug a device into the phone that keeps it charged and keeps it awake until they can privately rummage around in it. Does your bank authenticate you by the phone you are dialing in from? What’s the limit on purchases than can be made with a phone based payment system? Could somebody buy something on eBay and pay for it with your Paypal account linked to your bank account from your unlocked phone since you allow one-click purchases/payments? That purchase might be an item the thief has posted that will never be shipped. They’ll just take the money out of their dummy Paypal account and disappear.
    If you want to keep from getting ripped off, you need to think like a thief and keep up with the different types of scams past and present. If every dime you have can be accessed from one simple to steal device, you are at risk.

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