Location-based marketing: companies are tracking you

We spoke about this with Anne-Sophie Letellier, Digital Security Specialist, Senior Information Security Analyst at CBC / Radio-Canada.

How are geolocation data collected?

Each time we want to download an application, we must, as a user, agree to terms of use and a privacy policy. This is when the application will, in a way, ask us to access our data.

When we talk about geolocation, we are referring to data that is collected because the application has access to the GPS module of our cell phone. But it can also be done by our IP address, i.e. the address of a mobile device on a network and on the Internet, which can give an approximate geographical indication.

Businesses can also gain access to your location without going through your phone’s GPS module, by triangulating through nearby cell towers.

How is this geolocation data used?

The answer could be different for each of the companies concerned. But as a general rule, what we see most often is for marketing purposes. Collecting this data gives information about potential customers.

They can tell them, for example, which stores these people go to, what time they are most likely to be home, etc. All this information can help different companies, mainly for advertising purposes, to put forward targeted advertising.

For example, we can know if the person likes to drink alcohol a lot, if the geolocation has indicated that they often go to the SAQ, that they often go to bars. If a person goes to the hospital often, it can be said that they are at risk of having health problems and they can be referred to pharmaceutical advertisements. This is where all this information can be extremely useful for advertisers.

Are these practices well regulated?

Our personal data protection laws are very poorly adapted to respond to this reality. We don’t have a regulatory body that can pass judgment. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada can make recommendations, but after that, it has to be done on a case-by-case basis. There is no framework that is very clear and defined. So it’s very easy for businesses to take advantage of that.

This is something that we hope will be resolved fairly quickly because, both in Quebec and in Canada, there are steps currently being taken to update these laws.

On the other hand, small, medium and even large companies will say: Listen, we also need to collect this data for our products to be profitable. . And so, when these laws are debated, we find ourselves with, on the one hand, the protection of privacy, against on the other this famous value of innovation, and this is often where the problem can hurt . The ideal would be to find other ways for businesses to be profitable.

As a user, how can you protect yourself?

There are many things to do as an individual. Several operating systems have built into their operation a way to block this tracking. Every time there is a little pop up who says : ask the app not to track you, accept. There are limits to this, as many applications are beginning to find ways around [ce blocage].

Then, it is important to demonstrate a certain digital minimalism. Let’s take Tim Hortons app as an example. It was realized that the application, in its terms of use, told users that it collected their geolocation data only when the application was on. However, according to the investigation by the privacy commissioners, the application collected geolocation data at all times, whether it was open or closed. This is extremely problematic and one can also deduce that it is something that can happen for many other applications.

So if you don’t use an application, it’s a good practice to delete it because you avoid giving a company access to a data source that it could mismanage. As a user, you don’t control what the company does. We give our consent but once we have downloaded the application, we also give it access to the various elements of our phone, including geolocation.

The comments collected have been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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