Most Americans don’t realize just how much companies can predict from their data

Sixty-seven percent of smartphone users rely on Google Maps to help them get to where they are going quickly and efficiently.


A major of feature of Google Maps is its ability to predict how long different navigation routes will take. That’s possible because the mobile phone of each person using Google Maps sends data about its location and speed back to Google’s servers, where it is analyzed to generate new data about traffic conditions.

Information like this is useful for navigation. But the exact same data that is used to predict traffic patterns can also be used to predict other kinds of information – information people might not be comfortable with revealing.

For example, data about a mobile phone’s past location and movement patterns can be used to predict where a person lives, who their employer is, where they attend religious services and the age range of their children based on where they drop them off for school.

These predictions label who you are as a person and guess what you’re likely to do in the future. Research shows that people are largely unaware that these predictions are possible, and, if they do become aware of it, don’t like it. In my view, as someone who studies how predictive algorithms affect people’s privacy, that is a major problem for digital privacy in the U.S.

How is this all possible?

Every device that you use, every company you do business with, every online account you create or loyalty program you join, and even the government itself collects data about you.

The kinds of data they collect include things like your name, address, age, Social Security or driver’s license number, purchase transaction history, web browsing activity, voter registration information, whether you have children living with you or speak a foreign language, the photos you have posted to social media, the listing price of your home, whether you’ve recently had a life event like getting married, your credit score, what kind of car you drive, how much you spend on groceries, how much credit card debt you have and the location history from your mobile phone.

What Brokers Know

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