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Privacy

Help Us Find the Apps That Sell Your Location

Send us screenshots or share your knowledge of the location data industry

Illustration of several abstract characters standing in a maze of stairs. Location pins and coins are scattered throughout the piece.

Last week we wrote about the estimated $12 billion market for your phone’s location data. We identified 47 companies that play one of the many roles in the location data pipeline: providers, buyers, sellers, and aggregators. 

Now we need your help finding a missing piece of the data pipeline: the mobile phone apps that harvest and share location data with the industry. 

After looking through dozens of companies’ websites and privacy policies, we found a lack of transparency about the origin of the data that fuels their businesses. Buried in privacy policies, you will find lots of mentions of “trusted data partners,” but one thing was missing in nearly all of the sites we looked at: the names of the mobile apps that actually collect your location and movement data. 

Some of the companies we looked at told The Markup that they don’t publicly disclose what apps they get location data from, in order to keep a competitive advantage, but maintained that their process of obtaining location data was transparent and with clear consent from app users. 

We want to shed some light on which apps are involved in this pipeline. Here’s how you can help. 

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App Asking for Your Location? Send Us a Screenshot 

Some apps need your location to function properly, but others have no obvious need to know where you are at a given moment. Some of the most common apps that provide location data are for weather, navigation, and discounts, we’ve found. Employers and schools may also require apps that collect location data.

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Two screenshots, side-by-side, of Gas Buddy app on phone screens, one Android, one iOS, each showing the prompt "Allow 'GasBuddy' to use your location?"
Prompts asking for permission to access location data from the Android (left) and iOS (right) versions of the GasBuddy app. Source: GasBuddy

Take a moment the next time an app asks for your location to think about whether there’s a clear reason for sharing it. If you are at all suspicious, take a screenshot when you see the request on your screen. Here are some instructions on how to take a screenshot.

Then simply email the screenshot and the name of the app to location@themarkup.org, and we’ll develop a list of apps to further check out. 

This will help us understand how these prompts are worded and could help us identify apps that are using your location in ways the app developer does not disclose.  

Your privacy is extremely important to us, so we won’t post your screenshot or use your name. We’ll use your email only if one of our reporters has a question for you.  

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Do You Work with Location Data?

We are interested in speaking with people who are working in industries that may be collecting, using, buying, or selling this data. 

  • Do you work in location-based mobile advertising? 
  • Has your company purchased location data before?
  • Does your employer or school require you to use an app that asks for your location?
  • Are you an app developer, or have you worked with SDKs that monetize location data?
  • Do you process or analyze location data from mobile devices?

We’d like to hear from you. What does the location data industry look like from where you sit? Are there any aspects of this industry that we should be looking at?

You can send an email to keegan@themarkup.org, or you can reach Jon securely on Signal at 646-355-8306.

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