PrivacyCheck: Industry-Leading Data Privacy for Every Business

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Unacast, through its merger with Gravy Analytics, has brought an important new privacy-enhancing technology to market: PrivacyCheck. It’s a product launch that I’m particularly excited about, because PrivacyCheck lets any organization check their data against our dynamic database of sensitive locations, flagging any signals that match a sensitive location for removal. This means that any company working with location data – whether collected by a mobile app or IoT device, or licensed from another source – can now add industry-leading privacy controls to their own systems.

Why is this important? Location data fuels critical analytics across myriad industries today. It lets companies reach the right audience with their advertising. It helps businesses decide where to open a new store and municipalities figure out how to revitalize their downtowns. It provides insight into roadblocks in the supply chain. It helps researchers learn how a virus like COVID-19 spreads in our communities. It illuminates evacuation patterns and travel routes so that we can be better prepared when disasters strike – whether it’s the Mosquito Fire in California or Hurricane Ian in Florida. There is no exaggeration when I say that location data’s ability to show human movement at scale is helping to solve some very big challenges.

Managing Consumer Data Privacy

But despite the many benefits of location analytics, consumer data privacy remains a concern for many. From the start, Unacast has used an array of techniques to protect the privacy of individuals, like using data in aggregate and with a 24-48 hour delay. Later, our practices evolved with legislation, including the EU’s GDPR and California’s CCPA, by requiring consumer consent for location data to be collected and giving consumers the ability to opt out. This summer, the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ushered in a whole new set of privacy concerns. Now, our blocklist of more than 500K sensitive locations is implemented across our portfolio of products, ensuring that data obtained at these locations – including women’s healthcare centers – cannot be used.

As a location data processor, Unacast has taken whatever steps necessary to ensure that location data obtained at sensitive locations isn’t used in its products or sold to a customer. But there hasn’t been a lot of talk about how this data comes into being in the first place. The fact is, more precise location data is being collected in more ways —and by more companies— than ever before. Every mobile app that lets you see local news or sports scores, not to mention order takeout, request a taxi, or make hotel reservations, is collecting location information about its users behind the scene. Mobile devices, WiFi networks, web browsers, and IoT devices are also collecting location data for an array of purposes.

Location data is a mother lode of customer insights for businesses who, in turn, mine it for decision-making. But regardless of how it’s collected or whether it’s ever shared outside an organization, by capturing consumers’ location data, these businesses become responsible for handling it appropriately.

There is a serious learning curve when it comes to managing data privacy compliance, to say nothing of working with geolocation data in bulk. That’s what is so remarkable about this week’s launch: PrivacyCheck gives every business access to the same best-in-class, privacy-enhancing technology that Unacast built for its own use. Businesses with apps that collect location data are almost certainly in possession of data generated at sensitive locations, whether they realize it or not. This data might be inadvertently sold, used for analysis, accessed by a bad actor, or exposed during a data breach—all institutional risks of handling precise location data. With PrivacyCheck, businesses can pinpoint location signals generated at a sensitive location and swiftly remove them from their databases. An added bonus is that no data is ever shared with Unacast.

A Shared Challenge & Responsibility

Our industry has faced its share of challenges this year, and I’m incredibly proud to lead a team that finds real-world solutions to these challenges. Too often, the most critical commentary has come from industry outsiders who have little practical understanding of location data or location analytics. There have been plenty of articles about what could theoretically happen should someone’s sensitive data fall into the hands of a bad actor. Far less attention has been paid to how location data is actually used and to how devastating it would be for businesses, research teams, and our society to no longer have access to it. (Still less attention has been paid to what it means to concentrate it in the hands of a few big tech companies, but that’s a story for another time.)

This isn’t the last time our privacy-protection practices will evolve, whether in response to customer requirements, or new proposed legislation like the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA). Location data isn’t going anywhere: as more companies push more of their customer experience online, even more data will be generated. New data sources, too, like autonomous vehicles, are set to trigger an avalanche of precise location data into the ecosystem. That’s why it’s so important for us to share our expertise with everyone else who’s working with location data today. Together, we can ensure that location data is always handled responsibly, while finding the balance between individual privacy and the larger interests of our society. PrivacyCheck is Unacast's first product designed for use with customers’ first-party location data, and I suspect it may be the first of many.


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