Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Who Is Policing the Location Data Industry?

Alfred Ng and Jon Keegan, the Markup:

There is an estimated $12 billion market of companies that buy and sell location data collected from your cellphone. And the trade is entirely legal in the U.S.

Without legislation limiting the location data trade, Apple and Google have become the de facto regulators for keeping your whereabouts private — through shifts in transparency requirements and crackdowns on certain data brokers.


Workers in the location data industry told The Markup that data brokers are increasingly collecting data directly from app developers instead of relying on SDKs, which often leave a digital footprint. And it’s unclear how Apple and Google could even monitor how apps are sharing and selling data once they obtain it.

The short version is that nobody is policing it, and location data collected from anyone with a smartphone and commonplace third-party apps has become a massive unregulated market.

I understand the argument for Apple and Google to operate their platforms by their rules, but privacy should not be a policy decision made by a parent company. Nobody should have to decide what unknown privacy tradeoffs they are making by choosing software from one company over another. There must be clear rules restricting the collection and use of this information, and the U.S. desperately needs those laws since most of the world’s major technology companies are based in that country.