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How Your Phone Is Used to Track You, and What You Can Do About It

Published: August 19, 2020
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Source: ny times

As researchers and journalists try to understand how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting people’s behavior, they have repeatedly relied on location information from smartphones. The data allows for an expansive look at the movements of millions of people, but it raises troublesome questions about privacy.

In several articles, The New York Times has used location data provided by a company called Cuebiq, which analyzes data for advertisers and marketers. This data comes from smartphone users who have agreed to share their locations with certain apps, such as ones that provide weather alerts or information on local gas stations. Cuebiq helps app makers use technology like GPS to determine the location of people’s phones, and in turn some of the app makers provide data to Cuebiq for it to analyze.

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It can be difficult for people to keep track of whether and how their data is being gathered. Android-based devices and iPhones both require apps to ask users to enable location services before collecting the information, but the explanations people see when prompted to give permission are often incomplete or misleading. An app may tell users that granting access to their location will help them get weather alerts, but not mention that the data will be sold. That disclosure is often buried in a densely worded privacy policy.

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You can request your data from Cuebiq or ask the company to delete your data regardless of where you live. Cuebiq ties your data to your phone’s so-called advertising ID, which is used by marketers and others to differentiate phones from each other, and will send you the information associated with that ID. To prevent people from getting data on others’ IDs, the company requires you to download an app that verifies the number and then makes the request. You can then delete the app without affecting your request. The app is available for both Android and iOS.

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