Image source, Getty Images
Caption for the image You can use location data in many ways. For example, you could find out how much footfall is on any High Street at any time.

One British company that sells location data to people has acknowledged that it obtained some information without permission.

Huq collects data about location from people’s smartphones and then sells that information to his clients. These include many English and Scottish cities councils.

According to it, in two instances its app partners hadn’t asked users for their consent.

It added, however that this issue was now resolved.

The firm stated in a statement that it knew of two technical breaches of the data privacy regulations.

It also stated that they asked them to correct their codes and republish the apps, which they did.

“Huq data can be used anonymously. Consent is an essential pillar for data collection, and should be treated seriously. All our app partners must consent to this. Conrad Poulson (chief executive of Huq) stated that if there’s a breach we will quickly act.”

Kaibits Software was responsible for the development of one of these apps. While Kaibits Software acknowledged that permissions had issues, they have now been resolved. The second app developer didn’t respond.

Huq has not ruled out the possibility of other apps failing to obtain consent. According to Huq, it’s possible that partners or we may discover future technical issues. But what matters is how fast we react and how serious we take this issue,” the company told BBC.

Vice published a story about the apps that measured Wi-Fi strength and one that scan barcodes. This story asked how users knew that apps downloaded to one purpose shared information with another.

Huq’s website features a variety of services, including how “real-time footfall measurements” can be used to “discover where people are and why”.

A council, for example, could take the information it has and use it to calculate how many people visited a High Street in a specific time period.

AppCensus is a company that analyzes the privacy of apps. It looked into which apps Huq had done business with. AppCensus found that apps for weather, flight tracking, and Muslim prayers sent information to the company.

Joel Reardon, co-founder, told BBC that he had seen large differences in the way users were notified about how their GPS tracker and information about their home wifi router are being used.

He said, “If users are required to go through so many privacy policies, then these should at the very least provide an accurate description of what’s actually going on.”

Analysis by Danish TV2 shows that Android apps are more likely than iPhones to transmit location data.

Google stated to the BBC that they were investigating.

App-based companies that gather location data and then make it available for sale are now under greater scrutiny. Danish data authority currently examines whether “a legal basis” exists for Huq’s personal data processing.

In the meantime, Tamoco (a UK-based location data collection company) was reprimanded by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office for not providing enough privacy information to UK citizens.

According to the BBC, it stated that the company had requested that the firm “review personal data that they have collected in order to make sure that UK citizens’ data are not processed any further and should be destroyed.”

In 2019, Norwegian broadcaster NRK bought raw location data from Tamoco for £3,000. It received more than 140,000 tablets and phones with data in 460 million rows for this price. Although it didn’t contain names nor mobile numbers, the data did provide granular insight into the movements of individuals which allowed the broadcaster discover the true identities.

This allowed them to follow people in “frightening detail”, according to Martin Gundersen.

Data showed that one individual went to hospital, and another man for an interview. A second member of military had their movements tracked, from an army base in one location to another.

Tamoco has been contacted by the BBC for comments.


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