The database reviewed by The Times — a sample of information gathered in 2017 and held by one company — reveals people’s travels in startling detail, accurate to within a few yards and in some cases updated more than 14,000 times a day. These companies sell, use or analyze the data to cater to advertisers, retail outlets and even hedge funds. It is a hot market, with sales of location-targeted advertising reaching an estimated $21 billion this year. IBM has gotten into the industry, with its purchase of the Weather Channel’s apps.
The millions of dots on the map trace highways, side streets and bike trails — each one following the path of an anonymous cellphone user.
Take a good look at the top photo in this article, it’s deceiving. What looks like a stylized photo of New York City at night is a whole lot more than that. If you were to zoom in on it, you would see millions and millions light pixels, with each on representing a smartphone or mobile device user. And every place they go, everything they purchase, every activity they perform, are all cataloged and recorded. Why do you think most apps are free? App makers are not giving you anything, they are taking it.
Christians back in the 1970’s through the 1990’s used to obsess about what their ‘FBI file’ looked like. Everyone hailed that as the coming Mark of the Beast, but guess what? Location aware data tracking creates a file on you that is 1,000 times more detailed and more intimate than any FBI file that could have be started on you. In this generation, you are the one creating the file on you. And not just one file, it’s dozens of files with all your info, all your messages, all your photos, all of it being viewed, sold and stored in data farms around the world.
The apps tracking their users’ locations aren’t keeping those data secret
FROM THE INDIAN EXPRESS: One path tracks someone from a home outside Newark, New Jersey, to a nearby Planned Parenthood. Another represents a person who travels with New York’s mayor during the day and returns to Long Island at night.
Yet another leaves a house in upstate New York at 7am and travels to a middle school 14 miles away, staying until late afternoon each school day. Only one person makes that trip: Lisa Magrin, 46, a math teacher. Her smartphone goes with her.
An app on the device gathered her location information, which was then sold without her knowledge. It recorded her whereabouts as often as every two seconds, according to a database of more than 1 million phones in the New York area that was reviewed by The New York Times. While Magrin’s identity was not disclosed in those records, The Times was able to easily connect her to that dot.
THE APP TRACKED HER AS SHE WENT TO A WEIGHT WATCHERS MEETING AND TO HER DERMATOLOGIST’S OFFICE. IT FOLLOWED HER HIKING AND STAYING AT HER EX-BOYFRIEND’S HOME, INFORMATION SHE FOUND DISTURBING. “IT’S THE THOUGHT OF PEOPLE FINDING OUT THOSE INTIMATE DETAILS THAT YOU DON’T WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW,” SAID MAGRIN, WHO ALLOWED THE TIMES TO REVIEW HER LOCATION DATA.
Like many consumers, Magrin knew apps could track people’s movements. But as smartphones have become ubiquitous and technology more accurate, an industry of snooping on people’s daily habits has spread and grown more intrusive.
At least 75 companies receive anonymous, precise location data from apps whose users enable location services to get local news and weather or other information, The Times found. The database reviewed by The Times — a sample of information gathered in 2017 and held by one company — reveals people’s travels in startling detail, accurate to within a few yards and in some cases updated more than 14,000 times a day.
These companies sell, use or analyze the data to cater to advertisers, retail outlets and even hedge funds. It is a hot market, with sales of location-targeted advertising reaching an estimated $21 billion this year. IBM has gotten into the industry, with its purchase of the Weather Channel’s apps.
Businesses say their interest is in the patterns, not the identities, that the data reveals about consumers. They note that the information apps collect is tied not to someone’s name or phone number but to a unique ID. But those with access to the raw data — including employees or clients — could still identify a person without consent. They could follow someone they knew, by pinpointing a phone that regularly spent time at that person’s home address. Or, working in reverse, they could attach a name to an anonymous dot, by seeing where the device spent nights and using public records to figure out who lived there.
How Your Apps Are Tracking Your Every Move
Your apps you could be giving companies permission to track your location, read all your texts, access your photos, microphone and camera.