How Downtown Denver Partnership Got Data From Your Cell Phone
People asked how the Downtown Denver Partnership, a chamber-like organization, had access to cell phone data to track the movements of people in the area.
DENVER – When Then with Kyle Clark explored how visitors flock to downtown Denver faster than office workers, many of you have asked how the Downtown Denver Partnership, a chamber-like organization for downtown businesses, had access to cell phone data to track the movement of people entering and leaving the city center.
The graph, produced by the Partnership to show progress downtown, was actually created by a company called Placer AI, an analytics company. Placer AI aggregates anonymized location data through partnerships with more than 500 mobile apps, according to its website. A spokesperson said following the company aggregates this data from 30 million devices across the country to create an estimate of the number of people entering and leaving a certain location.
It’s one of many methods of data collection along the 16th Street Mall, including interactive kiosks that track the flow of foot traffic using low-power Bluetooth signals emitted by phones. The partnership says the Bluetooth signals are also anonymous.
“We allow a lot of apps to access our GPS location information and that sort of thing… some apps, maps and these things don’t work unless the phone turns on the GPS,” said Steve Beaty, president. of Computer Science Department at MSU Denver.
“In general, many of these apps have location detection, as it’s called, and unless you turn it off, these many apps share your location data on an ongoing basis.”
Beaty said this type of data collection happens all around us all day long. He pointed out some billboards that read data from cell phones and tailor their digital message to different times of the day based on the traffic going on at that time.
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Many have asked how this type of data collection could happen without their consent. Chances are, you’ve already consented to this through a terms of service agreement and selecting the option to allow an app to track your data.
“Legally and generally in these end user license agreements, there are a lot of words that this is why we are going to use your data, yes we are going to anonymize it in certain circumstances,” Beaty said.
He said if people were concerned about this, they should review the terms of the service agreement when they download an app and regularly check which apps are using location data.
“I don’t think most people are aware of how much they are giving away for free,” he said.
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