This is one of the most common questions I receive working in this industry. Everyone wants to know just how “anonymous” location data really is. Can it be used to track individuals, they ask?
Alas, there is no easy answer to this question. The nature of location data — showing as it does the physical movement of devices — does make true anonymity difficult. The New York Times has proven that with a lot of time and sufficient bad intentions, some of this data can be reverse engineered to trace the movements of specific people.
This sort of risk is exactly why X-Mode works so hard to anonymize our location data, even if it is not inherently “anonymous.” This is achieved by obfuscating the device IDs that we collect and aggregating devices using the data anonymization technique of generalization, so clients can see the movement of crowds rather than individuals. This is done for the sake of privacy, but it is also just common sense: our clients care a lot more about mass movement patterns than the paths of individual users.
By company policy, we also do not collect personally identifiable information (PII). That means, unlike other data companies, we do not collect demographic information such as age or gender, and we do not collect PII such as email, name, or phone number. We are a location company, and therefore all we care about is location.