NYT: Your Apps Are Tracking You, and Sharing the Data

A woman uses her smartphone in Beijing on November 11, 2017. China's smartphone masses splurged billions of dollars in an e-commerce bonanza on November 11 as consumers rushed to snap up bargains on 'Double 11', billed as the world's biggest one-day online shopping festival. / AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR …
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LUCAS NOLAN

The New York Timepublished an article recently titled “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret” which provides an insight into how much data is collected by smart devices.

An article from the New York Times titled “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret,” explores the vast amount of personal user data collected by apps used across mart devices and how this data is shared. The Times spoke with one woman who agreed to give them access to her personal data in order to determine just how many details of her life were being recorded by digital devices.

The article states:

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 a million phones in the New York area that was reviewed by The New York Times. While Ms. 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 for a minor procedure. It followed her hiking with her dog and staying at her ex-boyfriend’s home, information she found disturbing.

The article further explains why apps track this sort of location data, and how it can be valuable to other companies:

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.

Many location companies say that when phone users enable location services, their data is fair game. But, The Times found, the explanations people see when prompted to give permission are often incomplete or misleading. An app may tell users that granting access to their location will help them get traffic information, but not mention that the data will be shared and sold. That disclosure is often buried in a vague privacy policy.

Worryingly, it seems that the data collected from users could have real-world implications for them in the future, such as in the healthcare field:

Health care facilities are among the more enticing but troubling areas for tracking, as Ms. Lee’s reaction demonstrated. Tell All Digital, a Long Island advertising firm that is a client of a location company, says it runs ad campaigns for personal injury lawyers targeting people anonymously in emergency rooms.
“The book ‘1984; we’re kind of living it in a lot of ways,” said Bill Kakis, a managing partner at Tell All.

Jails, schools, a military base and a nuclear power plant — even crime scenes — appeared in the data set The Times reviewed. One person, perhaps a detective, arrived at the site of a late-night homicide in Manhattan, then spent time at a nearby hospital, returning repeatedly to the local police station.

Two location firms, Fysical and SafeGraph, mapped people attending the 2017 presidential inauguration. On Fysical’s map, a bright red box near the Capitol steps indicated the general location of President Trump and those around him, cellphones pinging away. Fysical’s chief executive said in an email that the data it used was anonymous. SafeGraph did not respond to requests for comment.

Read the full article in the New York Times here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or email him at lnolan@breitbart.com

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