Location Data Is Not Anonymous

We are truly in the era of big brother and 1984, where any of us can be tracked if we use a mobile device. That’s a scary thought and one that many people might not like. There are plenty of people in management that want to increase revenue or profits from the use of data, even if we might think their decisions are unethical or immoral. When there’s money to be made, often they ignore other issues.

There was a post from Bruce Schneier earlier this summer that noted various public data, some sold by brokers, was used to track location and usage of a device by de-anonymizing aggregated data. The post ends with these statements:

“Location data is not anonymous. It cannot be made anonymous. I hope stories like these will teach people that.”

That’s a somewhat scary thought. While I like knowing where my loved ones are, I’m not sure I want any random person to be able to track me with public information. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to be the case in the future. Lots of the data we have rarely worried about being public is much easier to access when records become available digitally to anyone. They ability to work with large amounts of data allows anyone with a connection to gather information that might be used in ways we never imagined.

For me, public records of property at the most annoying, as I constantly get unsolicited real estate offers to buy houses. For others, there could be concerns about safety, stalking, or other nefarious purposes. Swatting and other forms of harassment are far too common in the modern world.

While many might see the GDPR, and similar laws, as too restrictive for businesses and government, I think privacy is more important than ever. We ought to have more strict regulation on the use of data about humans, and force companies to obtain consent, allow it to be revoked, and be forced to properly manage and secure our data.

This doesn’t just apply to location data, but any data about humans. I hope the future becomes a place where we globally consider digital privacy a human right.

Steve Jones

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