Your location for sale

Companies collect and aggregate location data from millions of people’s phones. Then that data gets sold in a multibillion-dollar market. Jon Keegan and Alfred Ng for The Markup report on who’s doing the collecting and where your data goes:

Once a person’s location data has been collected from an app and it has entered the location data marketplace, it can be sold over and over again, from the data providers to an aggregator that resells data from multiple sources. It could end up in the hands of a “location intelligence” firm that uses the raw data to analyze foot traffic for retail shopping areas and the demographics associated with its visitors. Or with a hedge fund that wants insights on how many people are going to a certain store.

“There are the data aggregators that collect the data from multiple applications and sell in bulk. And then there are analytics companies which buy data either from aggregators or from applications and perform the analytics,” said Tsiounis of Advan Research. “And everybody sells to everybody else.”

It just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

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Facebook feed comparison between groups

As part of their Citizen Browser project to inspect Facebook, The Markup shows a side-by-side comparison between Facebook feeds for different groups, based on the feeds of 1,000 paid participants.

There are pretty big differences for news sources and group suggestions, but the news stories don’t seem as big as you might think with a median 3 percentage points difference between groups. Although, the distribution shows a wider spread.

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Facebook feed comparison between groups

As part of their Citizen Browser project to inspect Facebook, The Markup shows a side-by-side comparison between Facebook feeds for different groups, based on the feeds of 1,000 paid participants.

There are pretty big differences for news sources and group suggestions, but the news stories don’t seem as big as you might think with a median 3 percentage points difference between groups. Although, the distribution shows a wider spread.

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Blacklight, a tool to see how the websites you visit are tracking you

Companies are tracking what you do online. You know this. But it can be a challenge to know the extent, because the methods are hidden on purpose. So The Markup built Blacklight:

To investigate the pervasiveness of online tracking, The Markup spent 18 months building a one-of-a-kind free public tool that can be used to inspect websites for potential privacy violations in real time. Blacklight reveals the trackers loading on any site—including methods created to thwart privacy-protection tools or watch your every scroll and click.

We scanned more than 80,000 of the world’s most popular websites with Blacklight and found more than 5,000 were “fingerprinting” users, identifying them even if they block third-party cookies.

We also found more than 12,000 websites loaded scripts that watch and record all user interactions on a page—including scrolls and mouse movements. It’s called “session recording” and we found a higher prevalence of it than researchers had documented before.

Try it out here. Just enter a URL, and you’ll see a real-time count of the ad trackers, third-party cookies, cookie evaders, and keystroke recorders on any given site.

This is why I got rid of Google Analytics, social media widgets, and ad-serving snippets on FD years ago.

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Protecting your mobile data and privacy while at a protest

Maddy Varner reporting for The Markup:

“All protesting and all marches are a series of balancing acts of different priorities and acceptable risks,” said Mason Donahue, a member of Lucy Parsons Labs, a Chicago-based group of technologists and activists that run digital security training classes and have investigated the Chicago Police Department’s use of surveillance technology. “There is a lot of communication ability that goes away if you don’t bring a phone period,” he said.

So if you’re going to take your phone, you might want to do some of the following things to minimize risk.

These are straightforward items like installing an app or changing a setting on your phone, so it should only take a few minutes before you step out.

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Testing Gmail’s tab choices on presidential candidates’ emails

For many, Gmail automatically categorizes incoming emails to the primary inbox, promotions, and spam. The Markup and The Guardian tested the categorization on presidential candidate emails:

Their results:

I don’t use Gmail, and I don’t get any of these emails, but I’m curious how these candidate emails differ. Does Buttigieg write more personal messages whereas Sanders’ is more like an advertisement?

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