Data tracking makes privacy not so private

Companies are storing and analyzing customer online activity with the use of tracking technologies.  They then sell that data to other companies.  Mobile phone applications (apps) use “cookies” to collect location data every second of every day, according to the New York Times.  This further allows major corporations to learn about their customers on a personal level and use their information to effectively advertise. 

Christine Guido ’20

Approximately 75 companies purchase anonymous exact location data from apps whose users have their location services enabled, allowing them to receive local information such as weather, news, and nearby restaurants.  Over the past few years, tracking technologies have become more available with the use of cookies.  Cookies are small text files created to track and store smartphone users’ activity and preferences, according to

Cookies reduce users’ data to a certain number for the purpose of following their online activity.  Cookies recognize individuals’ personal smartphone and can identify their location. Some companies even use the level of users’ battery or a hidden pinging sound to track them, according to

Businesses such as Foursquare Labs Incorporated and Google LLC. track up to 200 million mobile devices in the United States. They sell this data to advertisers, retail outlets, and financial advisor companies seeking to gain knowledge about consumer interests and behaviors.  In 2018 alone, sales of location-targeted advertising reached almost $21 billion, according to the New York Times.

Foursquare Labs Inc. is a technology company that develops mobile apps that allow users to locate places to eat, drink, shop, or visit.  Although many customers are aware that apps track their locations for marketing and advertising information, they may not be fully aware that apps sell data to these ‘third parties’ such as research and development or customer service companies.  Third parties are organizations separate from the data tracking companies and smartphone users and are receiving supplemental data from the tracking company for marketing purposes, according to

“We [Foursquare] neither rent nor sell Data about users without their consent unless anonymized, aggregated or pseudonymized.  Though, as described more fully in this Privacy Policy, we may license or otherwise provide certain other Data to third parties, provided we have received your consent to do so,” states Foursquare’s Privacy Policy, according to

Mr. Joel Padilla, Upper School Math Teacher, Academic Dean of Class of 2020, and Chair of the Upper School Math Department shared his concerns about data sharing with major corporations.

It can be concerning to think about all of the data that companies collect about their users,”  Mr. Padilla said.  “Some companies collect this data specifically to sell it to other companies, some don’t reveal personal information but provide opportunities for targeted advertising, and others use it to improve their own products.”

Christine Guido ’20

Device tracking is a serious privacy and security issue, and users are unaware of the danger while major corporations are able to hide behind a screen.  These corporations are altering newsfeeds and changing prices based on their predictions of how much users are willing to pay for their services.

Though users believe that they can protect themselves by changing their privacy settings, businesses can still track movements and activities, even if the user turns off the “Location History” option.  In addition to location tracking on certain businesses’ electronics, people who use both Android OS and iOS devices are also susceptible to such privacy invasions.

Google asks for its users’ permission to use their locations on certain apps.  An example of this is Google Maps.  If users agree to let the app record their location over a period of time, Google Maps will display that history in a “timeline” which maps out users’ daily behaviors.

When apps store minute-by-minute travels and locations, privacy risks become more realistic.  Google says that users can “pause” their tracking data, preventing companies from recalling where the user is or has been.  
“You can pause Location History at any time in your Google Account’s Activity controls,” Google states on their support page, according to  

Mr. Padilla further stated how important it is for users to educate themselves on privacy terms to avoid any data complications.

Regardless of how a company uses the data that is collected, even if it is done with good intentions, hackers may be able to access the information,” Mr. Padilla said.  “For that reason, I think it all comes down to trusting the company you are doing business with.  Reading through the agreements and privacy policies is an important part of that, but they can be long, complicated, and burdensome to read for every product you use.”

Featured Image by Christine Guido ’20