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Why I think my phone location data will be sold to everyone

When we think of data dealing, the first things we usually think of are Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Google. However, I think seeing an online ad for a sports arena after you visited it (without searching for it or posting about it) is possible too. But how?

There are many uses for location tracking phones. In 2005, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) mandated that all cell phones be made with GPS tracking capabilities, for law enforcement to be able to track calls emergency calls.¹ We’ve come a long way since then, and it’s not just government and law enforcement who have benefited. It’s out in the open that many online companies, from Snapchat to food delivery to ticket sales to fitness providers use our location data to provide us convenience. I believe that one of the reasons we are so used to this is because it we see it as transparent. We give consent to share our location at the exact same time that a company provides us a service.

from Pixabay / by ooceey

However, there are plenty of corporate location data transactions going on that aren’t so surface level. The possibilities are endless, and understanding them helps me visualize why location data is so valuable. For an overly simplified example thought exercise, let’s explore a business problem. Brick and mortar businesses need customer demographics to grow. Whereas websites and tech companies can use things like google analytics and easily ask us for more inputs, brick and mortar businesses can’t stop everyone at the door and write extra things down. It would weird us out too much.

To add to the thought exercise, lets pretend a wireless company is offering GPS location data for sale, and break this down even further with a hypothetical conversation between a casino chain and a wireless company.

“I want to know where to advertise and grow, so it would be great to know where my customers live. I also don’t want to freak them out by asking them where they live when they enter,” says casino chain. “Well dude, I happen to know where your customers live, and not only that but a lot more stuff about them. Want some?” Says wireless company. “Yeah, but how?” Asks casino. “I can find everyone who’s been there in the last three years in the location databases, duh,” says wireless company. “Say less bro, give me that, I’ll pay whatever price.” Casino understands the value right away. Car dealership and amusement park jump in: “Hold on, we want some too.”

Who wouldn’t follow suit? When I buy fast food in cash, does the fast-food place get my address or my name or where I live? No. Could they use it? I’m speculating that the answer is yes. Business intelligence is quite popular these days. Whether my locations are being sold by AT&T, Verizon, or third party data dealers, I wouldn’t be surprised if some day soon, Burger King gets sophisticated enough to know where I live without shoving it in my face like a whopper.

Disclaimer: I’m not a fancy executive or technologist. This story is based on personal experience and opinion.

Source: [1] (May 2007) Convenient or Invasive: The Information Age http://www.ethicapublishing.com/ConvenientorInvasive.pdf#page=184

Further Reading: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/how-gps-exercise-data-can-reveal-sensitive-military-locations

Endlessly curious

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