I wrote an article for Techaeris earlier this year called “Have we reached peak Privacy Paranoia?” In light of the recent NY Times article called “Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy” (which everyone should read), I need to revise some points that I had made in that article.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
First and foremost is my point on being just an anonymized cog in the overall wheel of things. From the Times article, we learned that anyone could be tracked by overlaying their GPS location (which is taken by various apps on their phone) over any map of the area they were in. When you are one Green Dot on the map, and your commute to and from work is the same daily, then you can whittle down the identity of the person that is that particular Green Dot. There is no accurate way to anonymize that data.
This doesn’t matter much if it is just Google or your social network holding the info. What does matter is when these third-party apps we install collect the same data as Google or the Social Network from the OS itself or neighboring connections to other apps. It turns out that these third-party app developers/companies aren’t keeping the data private; instead, they are selling it, so they have another revenue stream.
I’ve thought about this a lot since I wrote that article back in September. While I stand by what I said about the companies I freely give info to, I now believe that we do need fundamental federal privacy laws that stop those same companies — or any company for that matter — from selling our information and location to third parties. No app or company that collects the location and tracking data should be allowed to sell that to another company. This is where we, the consumers, have lost control. Most of the TOS (Terms of Service) that no one reads say that the use of that app lets that company can sell your data to someone else.
This needs to stop
Google has an advertising platform. They can target specifics without selling the consumer’s info. The same goes for Amazon and Microsoft. When people start downloading an app that takes tracking and location data, the problem arises. Then the company or the developers behind that app decide to monetize the database and sell that info off. That’s, in a word, reckless. It’s a very unethical way of doing things. When you consider that medical and personal data may also be at some level of risk, the degree of negligence goes up.
Google and Apple could stop this to some extent by making it illegal in the Play and App stores to sell data collected by apps to third parties; if it is found out that the data is being sold, then the app and the company should be banned from the Play and App stores. I highly doubt that either Google or Apple would take it upon themselves to do no evil like that. Not when they may be getting upwards of 30% of the backend cut.
We need federal consumer privacy legislation on this, that is specific and states that the transfer of information to third parties must be authorized in writing or mandated by court order—no more of this frictionless transfer or TOS blanket authorization process.
There is no reason for any company to be selling databases of user information to another company. It’s a practice that has gone on long enough, and it needs to be ended. People need to contact their state congressional representatives and let them know that they want something done about this.
This practice will not change until people make their voices heard by those who can make the change.
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Last Updated on February 26, 2022.