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Why Does the US Want to Ban the Sale of Location Data?

A bill in the US Senate seeks to prohibit location data obtained from smartphones from being sold.

Pregnant woman using a smartphone.

Photo: Freepik

LatinAmerican Post | Luis Hernández Liborio

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Leer en español: ¿Por qué Estados Unidos quiere prohibir la venta de los datos de localización?

The use that companies give to user data has become increasingly news. We talk about sensitive data given by those who have access to smartphones or other technological devices and who, in most cases, do not know in whose hands they end up or what use is made of them. Due to this, governments, mainly in Europe and the United States, have promoted greater control over social networks and large technology companies to improve the security and handling of user data, especially when they endanger national security.

"The Drop that Spilled the Glass"

In the recent past, we have seen cases like Facebook, which was fined $5 billion for the Cambridge-Analytica scandal. The latter was accused of illegal practices for the manipulation of elections in different countries, including the United States, thanks to the access to data and user profiles that Facebook gave the company. Both Mark Zuckerberg's company and other technology companies assured that they would improve the security and handling of users' sensitive data, but the regulations did not stop, this to guarantee the safety of users.

Another of the most critical moments regarding data handling came when it was revealed that applications such as TikTok were related to the Chinese government. The concern of governments such as the United States and European countries led to limiting the release of data from their respective countries for fear that it would end up in the hands of China or Russia.

In this climate of questioning applications and technology companies, it was revealed in a Vice article that the company SafeGraph sold the location data of women who attended abortion clinics in the United States, a practice that is not illegal but that is in a battle to be banned. This sensitive information, in addition to violating the privacy of thousands of women, poses future problems that would reinforce the criminalization of abortion with serious consequences for the women involved, it was thus "the straw that broke the camel's back."

The Bill

Faced with this problem, more than 40 legislators in the United States, including Bernie Sanders, asked Google not to collect or share sensitive user data, especially location data. The dangers posed by the leaking of information are not limited only to its sale, but can also lend themselves to criminalization such as abortion or homosexuality, as is the case in some Muslim countries where homosexual men are located through dating applications to punish them. With this underlying problem, the "Health and Location Data Protection Act" has been promoted, which seeks to prohibit the sale of data, especially location data that can be used in a dangerous way for personal safety and for national security issues.        

Senator Elizabeth Warren, promoter of the project along with another group of legislators, seeks that the law prohibits the sale of user location data, which ends up in black markets, an industry that together is worth about $2 billion dollars according to GeoSpatialWorld data. Given the fear of the general population, the bill tries to guarantee the security of user data and information. TikTok, for example, has reached an agreement with Oracle to make use of its cloud where it will store all the content and data of American users, thus preventing them from leaving the country.

But the United States is not the only one with paranoia, according to Fortune, in China security has also become a problem, only in this case it is due to the fear of the Chinese government and not necessarily of the citizens. A few days ago, Tesla vehicles were banned from entering a small city in the Asian country due to this concern about the handling of user data that if misused can represent a clear danger.

You can also read: Scientists Create Skin to Cover a Robot

How to Prevent the Misuse of my Data?

Perhaps it is one of the most common questions, the answer is simple but not easy to do, to begin with, we should not provide our sensitive data to any application, no matter how interesting it may seem. Do you remember that vital application that was used to age the face in photos? There were not a few people who pointed out that these applications requested user data, as well as access to the entire mobile phone and its functions. As a user of application services or the internet network, you have the right to know what information they have about you and also to have it deleted. In the Meta applications, it is possible to download a copy of the information that the company has about us.