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Forget About Your Social Security Number, You Should Worry About Your Phone Number

Image via NordWood Themes on Unsplash

When the CEO of a company whose entire business revolves around something and calls on that something to be regulated, you know it has become an issue. Jeff Glueck, the CEO of Foursquare, which is described as "the most trusted, independent location data platform for understanding how people move through the real world," wrote an op-ed in the New York Times saying "It’s time for Congress to regulate the industry."

Foursquare, which Glueck calls "one of the largest independent companies in the location technology industry," invented the popular check-in feature which is now widely used across everyday applications. Citing use cases such as city planning, ride-sharing, discovering popular places and relieving traffic congestion, Glueck said "In the right hands, location data can be a force for good."

Glueck then warned "But location data can also be abused." He was apparently inspired by two recent articles about abuses taking place using location-based data.

Like something out of a fiction movie, the first article describes how a bounty hunter was paid $300 to track down someone by simply using their cell phone number. The bounty hunter located the phone without any hacking tools or previous knowledge of the phone’s location. The investigation found the real-time location data sold to the bounty hunter had originated from none other than the telecom companies. The story illustrates how companies are selling this data with little oversight to everyone from car salesmen to bail bondsmen.

The other article Glueck cited describes how police and private companies are capturing images of license plates with the automobile's location. This data is also ending up in the hands of the highest bidder, for example debt collectors. The problem is individuals can't opt-out of this and it's illegal in all 50 states to cover your license plate.

Glueck is calling on Congress to "draft federal regulation that enforces three core principles." First, apps shouldn't be able to use location data if they do not disclose explicitly why the user experience is enhanced with said data. Second, companies should disclose to users how their data is being used and provide them an easy way to opt-out at all times. Lastly, any law should establish an obligation for those companies collecting data to "do no harm."

While Glueck may be encouraged to push for regulation to benefit Foursquare, it's tough to disagree with what he's asking Congress to do. The fact that someone can be paid $300 to track you down with just a phone number will most likely not end well. J.D. Mumford, who runs Anonyome Labs Inc., sums all of this up perfectly by saying "A phone number is worth more on the dark web than a Social Security number. Your phone is so much more rich with data."

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