Opinion | Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy – By Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel – The New York Times

EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was provided to Times Opinion by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so. The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers.

After spending months sifting through the data, tracking the movements of people across the country and speaking with dozens of data companies, technologists, lawyers and academics who study this field, we feel the same sense of alarm. 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.

One search turned up more than a dozen people visiting the Playboy Mansion, some overnight. Without much effort we spotted visitors to the estates of Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger, connecting the devices’ owners to the residences indefinitely.

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Great report, “horrible, but great,” to quote Olivander, the wand seller, in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter #1. I have a great thirst for more specifics on: 1. As an iphone user, if I use google maps, allowing my location, am I screwed. Am I condemned to their resalable bulletin board of movement, or am I protected. Can I use directions from here to there and still have privacy?
And 2. which apps are to blame, including which functions on them, and what are the trade offs. 3. What legislation is needed to give us a modicum of privacy? thank you for this horrible, but magnificent report.
(David blogs at InconvenientNews.net.)

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