Privacy Groups Team Up To Help Prevent Mobile and Wi-Fi Companies From Selling Our Location Data

Signing up for things these days is often done online and often involves an array of opt-in / opt-out (and not too clear which) tick boxes as well as the need to skim through (or just not read many or any of) the T&Cs.

Advocacy groups have highlighted a lack of clarity in the sign-up process for UK mobile and Wi-Fi customers as one of the main reasons why we may be unwittingly be signing up to be location tracked 24/7, and may then also be suffering the results of having that highly sensitive data sold to other commercial companies.

Are You Being Tracked?

Privacy campaigners The Open Rights Group (ORG) and Krowdthink have both recently published reports that show how our Mobile and Wi-Fi service providers may be using questionable practices.

The 2 groups who have now joined forces to launch ‘Opt Me Out of Location’ (optmeoutoflocation.com) in response to evidence they have collected that appears to show a possible breach to our rights to privacy.

Online media site ‘The Register’ this week highlighted the news of how these 2 customer advocacy groups are encouraging UK mobile and Wi-Fi service customers to tell their service providers to provide much more clarity about what customers are opting in to, and to provide clear choices for opting out.

What May Have Been Going On?

Reports by the 2 privacy groups appear to allege that customers of some mobile and Wi-Fi service providers are being potentially mistreated in the following ways:

  • Customers unwittingly sign up to have the their location tracked 24/7.

  • Customer location data is being sold to third party commercial companies a source of revenue on top of subscriptions.

  • Customers are then being targeted with offers and adverts by marketers who have purchased and used the data somewhere along the line.

  • Those who have had their historic location data sold could therefore be at greater risk of being targeted by cyber criminals.

What About The Big Four?

Reported independent investigations relating to the 'Big Four' mobile providers show that:

  • Only 'Three' appears to clearly state that it does not share location data with third parties.

  • O2 and Vodafone allow customers to opt out of location tracking but remain opted in to marketing communications unless they ask to be opted out of those. Vodafone UK reportedly does not use location data for marketing purposes without customers’ opt-in consent.

    O2 has also publicly made the point that its service requires them to know the location of customers to enable connectivity to the network and that this shouldn’t be confused with ‘tracking’ the movements of customers. O2 have also publicly stated that they don’t sell individual customers' location data to third parties.

  • EE and Three require a call to opt out of marketing services.

  • According to the ORG, customers may not be given enough clear information about the use of their data, and opt-out mechanisms may unclear and difficult.

Anonymisation May Not Provide Protection

In respect of how collected and sold location data could be used, even though the industry may claim that consent is not required because location data is anonymised, the ORG argues that “A person’s location trace over a long period of time is completely unique and very hard to properly anonymise.

The risks of re-identification of location data are potentially higher than for other forms of data”.

What Does This All Mean For Your Business?

This kind of news applies to us as much as individual consumers as it does as businesses in terms of how we should pay particular attention to exactly what we are opting in and / or out of when we sign up to a service.

For a business, tracking information could also be commercially significant and sensitive, and this story highlights how complex protection of our own company’s data has become. This story should also highlight to businesses what an important issue data protection has become to consumers and consumer groups too.

A clear and transparent approach and good customer service when signing customers up, and towards the whole subject of exactly how customer data is used is appreciated and could help to enhance the reputation of your company.