The Acquisition And Selling Of Location Data Is One Of The Largest Online Markets You've Never Heard Of

People are typically very paranoid about their phone being used to trace their location. Apparently that paranoia is justified, since hawking access to one's location is a nearly USD $12 billion industry.

The business of location data has many key players behind it, boasting entire intelligence firms, collectors, and aggregators. All of these individuals even go so far as to operate through entire marketplaces that are much easier to come into contact with than you'd be comfortable knowing. Let's take the example of a location firm by the name of Near. Near proudly boasts that it is the world's largest database of people's behavior in the real world. Its database allegedly spans 1.6 billion individuals across 44 different countries. Other popular names in the game include MobileWalla (40+ countries, over 1.9 billion devices, with 5+ years worth of data) and X-Mode (25% of the adult US population, collecting data on a monthly basis).

The mere thought that these location banks are so upfront about their access to data that should actively be considered personal is alarming, to say the least. These shady companies operate with near-complete autonomy, have virtually no restrictions in their line of work, and therefore don't have to express any form of structural transparency. The Markup has complied data from 47 such firms. While this definitely isn't something that will stop such location banks, it will help demystify them for the general populace, and bring faces a bit more clearly out into public perception. Perhaps more than anything else, a sense of public accountability would help many of these companies pull their act together. Or perhaps not, it's hardly like they'll be punished.

Certain news stories very accurately frame how horrifying these firms can be in action. X-Mode, a company that collects data from individuals via the apps that they use, sold data regarding Muslim prayer app users to the US military. Did these Muslims ask to be part of an unwilling breach into their private lives? Did they engage in any behavior to instigate such action? On both counts, the answer is no, but because there is no regulation to control X-Mode, the US military can continue it's time honored tradition of "harass immigrants first, ask questions later." But only if they're not white, though, heavens forbid that the military come off as un-American.
Another such location bank by the name of Venntel was caught selling location information to federal agencies in the interest of immigration enforcement. And when we say "caught", we mean "observed and let go with literally no consequences to either parties involved".

Typically, the first question that comes to one's mind is how does such information become public knowledge in the first place? The answer is easy: it all starts when users are asked by an application to allow the sharing of location data. Maps needs location for navigation, weather apps need it for predicting local weather changes, and so forth. Apps such as Spotify will change recommendations and available songs on the basis of there.

So, yes, our personal data is hardly even ours to call anymore. Quite the unfortunate caveat of technology, bringing us all together from across the globe, only to shoot a tracker into everyone's respective arms.

H/T: Themarkup.

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