Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel at the New York Times: “…For brands, following someone’s precise movements is key to understanding the “customer journey” — every step of the process from seeing an ad to buying a product. It’s the Holy Grail of advertising, one marketer said, the complete picture that connects all of our interests and online activity with our real-world actions.
Pointillist location data also has some clear benefits to society. Researchers can use the raw data to provide key insights for transportation studies and government planners. The City Council of Portland, Ore., unanimously approved a deal to study traffic and transit by monitoring millions of cellphones. Unicef announced a plan to use aggregated mobile location data to study epidemics, natural disasters and demographics.
For individual consumers, the value of constant tracking is less tangible. And the lack of transparency from the advertising and tech industries raises still more concerns.
Does a coupon app need to sell second-by-second location data to other companies to be profitable? Does that really justify allowing companies to track millions and potentially expose our private lives?
Data companies say users consent to tracking when they agree to share their location. But those consent screens rarely make clear how the data is being packaged and sold. If companies were clearer about what they were doing with the data, would anyone agree to share it?
What about data collected years ago, before hacks and leaks made privacy a forefront issue? Should it still be used, or should it be deleted for good?
If it’s possible that data stored securely today can easily be hacked, leaked or stolen, is this kind of data worth that risk?
Is all of this surveillance and risk worth it merely so that we can be served slightly more relevant ads? Or so that hedge fund managers can get richer?
The companies profiting from our every move can’t be expected to voluntarily limit their practices. Congress has to step in to protect Americans’ needs as consumers and rights as citizens.
Until then, one thing is certain: We are living in the world’s most advanced surveillance system. This system wasn’t created deliberately. It was built through the interplay of technological advance and the profit motive. It was built to make money. The greatest trick technology companies ever played was persuading society to surveil itself….(More)”.