Stuart Thompson and Charlie Warzel dig into the location data scrapped by apps and smartphones. To explain the systemic surveillance that we are all a part of, they unpack a single data source from a location data company.
The data reviewed by Times Opinion didn’t come from a telecom or giant tech company, nor did it come from a governmental surveillance operation. It originated from a location data company, one of dozens quietly collecting precise movements using software slipped onto mobile phone apps. You’ve probably never heard of most of the companies — and yet to anyone who has access to this data, your life is an open book. They can see the places you go every moment of the day, whom you meet with or spend the night with, where you pray, whether you visit a methadone clinic, a psychiatrist’s office or a massage parlor.
This information is often used in cc combination with other data points to create a shadow profile.
As revealing as our searches of Washington were, we were relying on just one slice of data, sourced from one company, focused on one city, covering less than one year. Location data companies collect orders of magnitude more information every day than the totality of what Times Opinion received.
Until governments step in to curb such practices, we need to be a little more paranoid , as Kara Swisher suggests. While John Naughton wonders how the west is any different to China?
It throws an interesting light on western concerns about China. The main difference between there and the US, it seems, is that in China it’s the state that does the surveillance, whereas in the US it’s the corporate sector that conducts it – with the tacit connivance of a state that declines to control it. So maybe those of us in glass houses ought not to throw so many stones.
Another example such supports Naughton’s point is presented by the Washington Post which reported on how some colleges have taken to using smartphones to track student movements.