We put apps on our phones for many reasons. Some apps are useful – they tell us the weather, the pollen count, and the latest news. Other apps allow us to post things from our phones to social media. The New York Times reported that the apps on your phone are tracking you. Or, more correctly, the marketing industry is tracking you through those apps.
The New York Times received a data set from a source who is being kept anonymous. The data set “followed the smartphones of thousands of Trump supporters, rioters, and passers-by in Washington, D.C., on January 6, as Donald Trump’s political rally turned into a violent insurrection.”
According to The New York Times, the data they were given included about 100,000 location pings for thousands of smartphones, revealing around 130 devices inside the Capitol exactly when Trump supporters were storming the building. About 40 percent of the phones tracked near the rally stage on the National Mall during the speeches were also found in and around the Capitol during the siege – which The New York Times said was “a clear link between those who’d listened to the president and his allies and then marched on the building.” There were no names or phone numbers in the data.
How is this happening? According to The New York Times, it is because of the unique ID that is tied to a smartphone.
The IDs, called mobile advertising identifiers, allow companies to track people across the internet and on apps. They are supposed to be anonymous, and smartphone owners can reset them or disable them entirely. Our findings show the promise of anonymity is a farce. Several companies offer tools to allow anyone with data to match the IDs with other databases.
No matter what your opinion of the people who converged at the Capitol, you should be concerned about how much data is being taken from your smartphone by the “location-tracking industry” (as The New York Times calls them). Location data can be deanonymized. The data set examined by The New York Times included information harvested from phones of “rioters, police officers, lawmakers, and passers-by”.
Based on this, it seems to me that there should be some legislative effort put into stopping the “location-tracking industry” from freely grabbing as much data as they desire. There is a risk that a police officer could wrongly discern this type of data to accuse an innocent person of a crime. According to the New York Times, some location data is accurate to within a few feet, other data is not.