There may be no such thing as privacy, according to a New York Times article by Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel. In a study on privacy and security, the Times assessed the sheer power of location tracking devices and their encroachment upon a basic right to privacy. The danger in this type of surveillance is that in addition to known sources and apps, monitoring happens with several other unknown apps.
The Times Privacy Project revealed the location information of a sample population provided through phone app data.
“In the cities that the data file covers, it tracks people from nearly every neighborhood and block, whether they live in mobile homes in Alexandria, Va., or luxury towers in Manhattan,” Thompson and Warzel shared in the Times.
Perhaps more shocking than that revelation is the fact that the tracking measures were put in place not by phone companies that provide the apps, but by an unknown entity: the location tracking companies that are bundled with the apps.
“Even if these companies are acting with the soundest moral code imaginable, there’s ultimately no foolproof way they can secure the data from falling into the hands of a foreign security service,” Thompson and Warzel wrote.
Security threats do not have to be foreign to be unwelcome. The idea of your child’s phone revealing her every movement or your device tracking your path to a meeting at a private location is still an alarming one.
The lack of regulatory accountability on the part of location tracking companies is even more unsettling. Can these companies act without direct, informed consent? Location tracking companies insist that users do provide permission. Further, they claim to allow users to remain anonymous, and to not share user data.
If consenting to use the app is tantamount to consenting to surveillance, tracking companies are not inspiring user confidence. Yet without established privacy laws, they don’t have much of an incentive to do so. As Calli Schroeder, a lawyer for VeraSafe revealed to the Times, “If a private company is legally collecting location data, they’re free to spread it or share it however they want.” If this concerns you, rest assured that for now, there is nothing you can do about it.