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Rules for location data

The CEO of Foursquare — Jeff Glueck — published an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today, calling on Congress to regulate the location data industry. Currently, there are no formal rules in place.

In case you’re not aware, Foursquare is one of the largest independent companies operating in this space. I have written about them many times before on the blog.

Here’s an excerpt from Jeff’s op-ed explaining why this matters:

But location data can also be abused. Bounty hunters were able to buy the current location of a cellphone for $300, Vice reported, because telecom companies sold the real-time location of phones to shady companies. And apps that track location data may turn around and sell that data, revealing someone’s every movement — whether it is to a retail store, an abortion clinic or a gay bar. Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported on a company with thousands of cameras selling car locations to debt collectors and others; there is no “opt-in” involved, and it’s illegal in all states to cover your license plate.

I am writing about this today because I think it’s relevant to city building. Location data is inherently spatial. It is how we exist in cities. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you that this is valuable information — hence why it is being abused.

Here we have a company advocating for more, not less, regulation. They, of course, want it to be sensible. But I still think it says things about the current location data environment. To learn about the specifics of what Jeff is proposing, click here.

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