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Capture clear photos with a 13MP autofocus-assisted rear camera. A brilliant, 5. Android One phones will receive at least two years of OS upgrades. There are dozens of companies profiting off such data daily across the world — by collecting it directly from smartphones, creating new technology to better capture the data or creating audience profiles for targeted advertising.

Many use technical and nuanced language that may be confusing to average smartphone users. While many of them have been involved in the business of tracking us for years, the companies themselves are unfamiliar to most Americans. Companies can work with data derived from GPS sensors, Bluetooth beacons and other sources.

Not all companies in the location data business collect, buy, sell or work with granular location data. Location data companies generally downplay the risks of collecting such revealing information at scale. He added that Factual does not resell detailed data like the information we reviewed. In absence of a federal privacy law, the industry has largely relied on self-regulation. Several industry groups offer ethical guidelines meant to govern it. Factual joined the Mobile Marketing Association , along with many other data location and marketing companies, in drafting a pledge intended to improve its self-regulation.

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The pledge is slated to be released next year. States are starting to respond with their own laws. The California Consumer Protection Act goes into effect next year and adds new protections for residents there, like allowing them to ask companies to delete their data or prevent its sale. But aside from a few new requirements, the law could leave the industry largely unencumbered. The companies are required to disclose very little about their data collection.

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By law, companies need only describe their practices in their privacy policies, which tend to be dense legal documents that few people read and even fewer can truly understand. In truth, sensitive information can be easily transferred or leaked, as evidenced by this very story. But location data is different. Our precise locations are used fleetingly in the moment for a targeted ad or notification, but then repurposed indefinitely for much more profitable ends, like tying your purchases to billboard ads you drove past on the freeway.

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Many apps that use your location, like weather services, work perfectly well without your precise location — but collecting your location feeds a lucrative secondary business of analyzing, licensing and transferring that information to third parties. For many Americans, the only real risk they face from having their information exposed would be embarrassment or inconvenience. But for others, like survivors of abuse, the risks could be substantial. And who can say what practices or relationships any given individual might want to keep private, to withhold from friends, family, employers or the government?

We found hundreds of pings in mosques and churches, abortion clinics, queer spaces and other sensitive areas. In one case, we observed a change in the regular movements of a Microsoft engineer. He made a visit one Tuesday afternoon to the main Seattle campus of a Microsoft competitor, Amazon. The following month, he started a new job at Amazon. It took minutes to identify him as Ben Broili, a manager now for Amazon Prime Air, a drone delivery service. Broili told us in early December. Broili was out on a job interview raises some obvious questions, like: Could the internal location surveillance of executives and employees become standard corporate practice?

If this kind of location data makes it easy to keep tabs on employees, it makes it just as simple to stalk celebrities. Their private conduct — even in the dead of night, in residences and far from paparazzi — could come under even closer scrutiny. Reporters hoping to evade other forms of surveillance by meeting in person with a source might want to rethink that practice. Every major newsroom covered by the data contained dozens of pings; we easily traced one Washington Post journalist through Arlington, Va. In other cases, there were detours to hotels and late-night visits to the homes of prominent people.

One person, plucked from the data in Los Angeles nearly at random, was found traveling to and from roadside motels multiple times, for visits of only a few hours each time. But a number of companies do sell the detailed data. Buyers are typically data brokers and advertising companies. But some of them have little to do with consumer advertising, including financial institutions, geospatial analysis companies and real estate investment firms that can process and analyze such large quantities of information.

Political Campaigns Know Where You’ve Been. They’re Tracking Your Phone. - WSJ

Location data is also collected and shared alongside a mobile advertising ID, a supposedly anonymous identifier about 30 digits long that allows advertisers and other businesses to tie activity together across apps. The ID is also used to combine location trails with other information like your name, home address, email, phone number or even an identifier tied to your Wi-Fi network. This is how, for example, you might see an ad for a new car some time after walking through a dealership.

That data can then be resold, copied, pirated and abused.


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  • Location data is about far more than consumers seeing a few more relevant ads. This information provides critical intelligence for big businesses. And Foursquare received much attention in after using its data trove to predict that after an E. Its same-store sales ultimately fell The resulting scandal forced the telecom giants to pledge they would stop selling location movements to data brokers.

    Location data is transmitted from your phone via software development kits, or S. The kits are small programs that can be used to build features within an app. They make it easy for app developers to simply include location-tracking features, a useful component of services like weather apps.


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    Facebook, Google and Amazon, for example, have extremely popular S. But they could also sit on an app and collect location data while providing no real service back to the app. Location companies may pay the apps to be included — collecting valuable data that can be monetized. If this information is so sensitive, why is it collected in the first place? Once they have the complete customer journey, companies know a lot about what we want, what we buy and what made us buy it. Other groups have begun to find ways to use it too. Political campaigns could analyze the interests and demographics of rally attendees and use that information to shape their messages to try to manipulate particular groups.

    Quick tips to help you take back your attention.

    Governments around the world could have a new tool to identify protestors. Pointillist location data also has some clear benefits to society. Are you addicted to your smartphone? If so, you're not alone. Clearly there's a lot of good that comes with frequent use of our devices, but there's also a downside. In fact, with just the mere presence of our smartphones, our ability to focus on a task and solve problems decreases.