Location tracking and Prop-ID

The Prop-ID project does not deal specifically with location tracking – we are instead focusing on transaction scenarios in which a person might be expected to provide an ID card of some sort. But the ongoing controversy about mobile devices’ location tracking capabilities unfolding in the United States certainly relates to Prop-ID.

Very rarely are data brokers and the advertising companies they serve interested exclusively in data from one particular source, e.g. location tracking. Rather, they are interested in an aggregated view of all the different types of data they can possibly gather about people. It is based on this combination of data sources that consumer profiling is conducted. (CIPPIC, 2006)

The data brokers, then, routinely combine information about one’s in-person transactions with location tracking data to make interpretations about that individual. The individual would then be grouped into a category and marketed to in a particular way. This imposed classification is often not in the person’s best interests.

We are interested in ensuring that only the essential amount of ID card data is provided in any given transaction scenario. Clearly, there would also be value in ensuring that only the essential amount of location data is captured whilst using a mobile phone. Important questions for the US lawmakers to answer, then, will be: what is, on average, the essential amount of location data for smartphone operations? Is Apple or Google storing more data on these devices than is absolutely necessary?

The fact that Apple has released a software patch to amend these location tracking concerns on the iPhone seems to be an admittance that it was storing more than the essential amount of data. (Chosun, 2011) It is certainly a positive development that these mobile privacy issues are finally being discussed at the congressional level in the US. Hopefully the upcoming congressional hearings (Melvin, 2011) will help bring these concerns to the attention of the average consumer.