Jun 29, 2019 - Technology

Cities are the new data guzzlers

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

From getting a license to paying taxes, we routinely give cities granular data on who we are, where we live, what we do and how much we earn.

Why it matters: “City Hall has a treasure trove of information about you,” says Ann Cavoukian, a privacy expert at Ryerson University. “You have no choice but to give them information.”

For example: New York's LinkNYC WiFi hotspots, which also have cameras, can analyze images of people passing by particular kiosks. Over time, images could be linked to their identity and other sensitive data, like credit scores.

  • Theoretically, that information could then be used to place ads for payday loans around that kiosk, says Katya Abazajian, Open Cities director at the Sunlight Foundation.

If predictions turn out to be true, 5G-connected devices (dashcams, bikes, umbrellas, clothing, keys) and city infrastructure (streetlights, stop signs, utility lines) equipped with elaborate sensor networks will be able to pinpoint your real-time location.

  • But the explosion of data and always-connected items will lead to new and unpredictable applications.
  • For example, sensors could track how frequently you go to the gym or cameras could see how often you run red lights — data that insurance companies might be interested in, Abazajian said.

The bottom line: "As tech companies get more and more consent from people to collect data on how they live their lives, there are going to be more unexpected uses of that data to shape your access to consumer goods or any services," says Abazajian.

  • "It's all about who is sharing the data with whom. And we just don't know that right now."

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Dating apps, menstrual trackers accused of violating European data privacy law

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Grindr, OkCupid, Tinder, Qibla Finder and MyDays X are among 10 apps feeding user data — such as ethnicity, location, gender and age — to digital ad companies, nonprofit Norwegian Consumer Council found in a report released on Tuesday.

Why it matters: These dating, prayer guidance and menstrual cycle or fertility tracking apps collect information from some of the most intimate parts of users' lives. The council argues that sharing this data violates a European data protection law that went into effect last year.

Go deeperArrowJan 15, 2020

Big Tech data centers probably aren't a climate change time bomb

Data: Reproduced from an International Energy Agency report; Chart: Axios Visuals

An International Energy Agency analysis pushes back against concerns that data centers are a ticking carbon bomb as use of web-connected devices expands.

Where it stands: Power use by data centers consumes about 1% of global power (which isn't trivial in a world of still-rising emissions) and has changed little since 2015, they report.

Go deeperArrowJan 7, 2020

America's hardest places to grow up

Nearly 10 million American kids live in low-opportunity neighborhoods, with limited access to good schools, parks and healthy food.

Why it matters: Simply being born in these pockets put these kids at a stark disadvantage. The neighborhoods in which children grow up shape many aspects of their adult lives, including how long they'll likely live, how healthy they'll be, and how much money they'll make.

Go deeperArrowJan 22, 2020