April 13, 2019
A recent Supreme Court case, Carpenter v United States, questioned whether the government could get location data from a cell phone company for a criminal case. The Court held that the government needs a warrant to procure cellphone information because, as Justice Roberts said, “the time stamp data that comes from your cell phone site location information provides an intimate window in a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements but through them his familiar, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations. These location records hold for many individuals the privacy of life.”
But while the government is limited in its use of cell phone data in a criminal case, these same smart phones allow companies such as Facebook and Google to know a lot about users’ lives.
“Location tracking gives companies a very rich set of data that can touch pretty much follow every place you go throughout the day, but it is only a piece of what’s on your phone. So if you download different apps, they can also access a lot of different data on your phone,” says Jennifer King, Director of Online Privacy at Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society. King’s scholarship looks at the public’s understanding and expectations of online privacy and the policy implications of emerging technologies. Much of her research sits at the intersection of human-computer interaction, law, and the social sciences, focusing on social media, genetic privacy, mobile platforms, the Internet of Things (IoT), and digital surveillance.
And it turns out that there is a big privacy tradeoff when we download and use “free” apps.
“In general, if an app is tracking your information, it is because they are trying to gather as much about you as possible and potentially sell it,” King says. “It’s about building as much of a profile as they can on individual consumers as possible. It’s not just advertising. It’s everybody. It’s insurance companies. There are different willing parties who want to buy this information across the spectrum.”
To learn more about this, join Stanford Legal co-hosts Pam Karlan and Joe Bankman for a discussion on online privacy and personal data with Jennifer King . You can listen to Stanford Legal on SiriusXM Insight Channel 121, iTunes, SoundCloud, and YouTube.