User data is a very valuable commodity on the internet. This should be concerning to basically… everyone because we’re all commodities to the right industry. The newest report of user data ending up in unexpected places might keep you from picking up a Tile to track your kit. Life360, the app that just purchased the tracking hardware company, has reportedly been handing over large quantities of user data to data brokers.
This information comes by way of The Markup, who spoke to two former employees who wished to remain anonymous. Two people who used to work for location data brokers Cuebiq and X-Mode were also consulted.
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This is a problem because these data brokers sell information to other parties. X-Mode sells information to the US Department of Defence, while Safegraph has previously sold data to the CDC. Life360 has been selling data since 2016 but instituted a 2020 policy to not sell data to government agencies. Data brokers may or may not be bound by that same policy.
Where it becomes a problem is when it comes to personally-identifying information. Representatives from both X-Mode and Cubiq remarked on the volume of data that flows from Life360 to their respective companies. And former employees of the tracking app claim that, while some effort is made to anonymise the data given to brokers, “…it did not make efforts to “fuzz,” “hash,” aggregate, or reduce the precision of the location data to preserve privacy”.
Privacy is a personal problem
Hulls said to The Markup, in an emailed statement, that, “We have no means to confirm or deny the accuracy of the claims made by the anonymous sources. We see data as an important part of our business model that allows us to keep the core Life360 services free for the majority of our users, including features that have improved driver safety and saved numerous lives.”
Life360 is not unique. Location data is gathered by many different companies. Any app installed on your smartphone that requests or requires location tracking is siphoning that data. Google certainly knows where you (or your smartphone) are at all times. So does Apple, your mobile service provider, and that suspect calculator app. Yeah, delete that one. But a company like Life360 builds its entire business on accurate user locations, making it a particular risk.
And that’s because, as useful as the app may be, the incredibly accurate information you share with your grandmother can just as easily be used against you. A stalker, gaining access to this info, can follow you as though you were wearing a blinking neon sign. A government agency could black-bag you at their convenience. And, worst of all, you’ll have volunteered that information of your own accord.
Source: The Markup