Park City May Begin Monitoring Your Cell Phone Signals Soon. Do You have Questions About Your Privacy You’d like to Ask the Monitoring Company?
During last week’s City Council meeting, we learned Park City Municipal had engaged a company called Blyncsy in a pilot to monitor cell phone signals from drivers. According to the city, these cell phone signals will be used to “better understand how our population, employee base, and visitors flow throughout town.” My concern is how our citizens’ privacy is protected.
How this type of technology typically operates is that it uses a byproduct of how your cell phone works in order to record where you go. If you have a smartphone, it usually includes WIFI and bluetooth. Your phone uses these technologies to do things like get on the internet and play music over your car speakers. Each phone, for both bluetooth and WIFI, has unique identifiers that are specific to your phone. For instance your phone’s WIFI identifier, called a mac address, looks something like this 00:0a:95:9d:68:16. Your phone’s bluetooth would have a similar looking but different address. Again, these addresses are unique in the world to your phone.
Because of the way phones work, these identifiers are broadcast fairly frequently from the phone to the outside world. Cell phone monitors then can record those addresses at various sensors along the road and track where the phone goes and where it’s currently at.
Therein lies the issue. Unless specific and proper steps are taken to anonymize the information at the right point in the process, your location information may be trackable. Furthermore, unless privacy policies are in place that define how citizens’ information can be used, your information may be used in ways you do not approve of (perhaps even sold). Finally, unless there are contracts in place that prohibit changes to how the monitoring company uses our data, allows for auditing of the monitoring company’s processes and data centers, and ensures that Park City receives annual updates on audits performed, we don’t even have minimal assurances over our citizens’ privacy.
Park City’s document on the plan says that information collected will be anonymous. Yet, that’s one of those statements that is often used but the devil is in the details. With that in mind, I have contacted Blyncsy and am planning to have a call with them on Thursday to understand their privacy policies and how our information is protected. From what I’ve heard this will be one of Blyncsy’s first installs of its kind. It will be interesting to see if they have all their ducks in a row.
Even with all of their answers, you may not like your phone being tracked. After I talk with the company, I’ll explain what you can do to avoid being tracked (you’re not going to like it). I’ll also give an example of how someone like the Mayor Jack Thomas’ phone could be tracked specifically back to him and his location monitored.
I hope Blyncsy has taken all the right steps to ensure our privacy. If so, we may have nothing to worry about (other than just the concept of being tracked).