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They know our whereabouts

These companies, and many others, make a living by analysing and selling info on our whereabouts. The estimated market value is in the order of 12 billion $, and growing. Image credit: Joel Eastwood and Gabe Hongsdusit, The Markup.

Can’t help but smile when I hear about “privacy”… Privacy is a figment of our imagination as we spend more and more of our life in the cyberspace. Even when we think to be living in the physical space we are connected to the cyberspace and our shadows is captured there.

This is why I was not surprised in reading the article on The Markup pointing out at the growing market of location data, derived by our smartphones (the way we are using them) plus all location data we are (unknowingly) providing anytime we connect to the web. It is a growing market but it is already a very large one, estimated in the order of 12 billion $ in 2021.

There are plenty of companies harvesting these location data, a subset is shown in the figure. Are you being located? I don’t know but with companies boasting of their data set tracking 1.9 billion devices (read people) in 44 Countries the probability that you, and I, are being tracked is quite high.

For sure the companies you are interacting with for travel, eCommerce, entertainment… know where you are at the time you interact with them. Even driving your car, or a rented one, is adding to companies knowing your whereabouts. Not to mention the Telecom Operator that “has to know” your location at all times, in order to reach you. Most likely you Telco is not going to share your location data with others (at least I hope) but I am pretty sure that many others do. As I search for a place, I immediately start receiving offer, ads, for lodging, services associated to that location by a variety of companies. Someone has clearly informed them…

It is a whole new business ecosystem comprising collectors, buyers, sellers and aggregators. Expect to see (probably they are already there) intelligence gatherers -data analytics, pollsters, marketing companies…

According to the article X-Mode, one of this companies, collects data from Muslim prayers apps and provide data to military contractors, Venntel, another company, provides data to US Federal Agencies to control immigration… A Catholic news outlet used data sold by a location data vendor to spot the frequentation of gay bars by a priest (and ousted him). I mentioned these examples just to emphasise how far, and how much intrusive, these data can become.

Yet, amazingly, most of these companies pretend that they are respectful of people’s privacy and only sell anonymised data. It might even be true, in some cases, but once you have several streams of data finding out who is attached to those data is not that difficult.

All in all, it is an article worth reading.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.