Friday, November 16, 2018 -
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Big Brother is here…literally

Why did Bradley Cooper and Jessica Alba fail to record a tip when they paid their cabbies during New York City taxi rides back in 2013? Why was Cooper near a Mediterranean restaurant in Greenwich Village? Why was Alba at a ritzy hotel in Soho?

We don’t know the answers, but we do know exactly when and where the movie stars were going. And we know all of this not from some special government sting operation but from publicly available data about millions of people’s movements throughout New York City.

That information, released in an open records request, validates the concerns of those who argue that while consumers’ digital metadata may seem to be anonymous, it actually isn’t. It takes just one or two other pieces of information to turn seemingly anonymous branches of metadata into specific information about individuals — and not just those who are famous.

In the case of the taxi info, data analyst Christopher Whong filed an open records request in March, 2014 for New York’s database of cab fare, tip and location information after seeing a tweet from the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Though that database of 174 million cab rides in 2013 includes no passenger names, software engineer Vijay Pandurangan was able to link the data to other publicly available information about license plates, cab driver identities and taxi companies’ medallion numbers.

Then, to show the individualized surveillance power of the seemingly anonymous data, Anthony Tockar of Neustar Research cross-referenced the information with publicly available photos of celebrities getting into cabs with identifiable license plates.

The rest of this article is available in the October 17, 2014 IJN print and digital edition only. Contact Carol to order your copy at carol@ijn.com or subscribe to our online e-Edition.




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