New Infographic Illustrates Key Aspects of Location Data


Today, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) published an infographic, “The World of Geolocation Data” that outlines how location data is generated from mobile devices, who has access to it, and factors to consider in evaluating privacy risks. Data from our mobile devices, including smartphones and fitness trackers, can serve as a proxy for where we are located over time, revealing intimate information about individuals and groups.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, many are interested in employing both location data and proximity signals from smartphones to track the spread of the virus and measure adherence to social distancing guidelines,” said Stacey Gray, FPF Senior Counsel. “We’re helping policymakers and public health officials understand location data so they can make proactive, knowledgeable choices about the use of this sensitive information.”

The infographic shows how mobile devices interpret signals from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networks, cell towers, and GPS satellites to pinpoint their location, as well as how that data is analyzed by the mobile operating system to provide precise measurement to mobile apps upon request. The graphic describes the different entities that are able to access, use, or share various types of location data, including cell phone carriers, mobile apps and app partners, and downstream recipients. Finally, the graphic describes the factors that make location data more or less risky including persistence and frequency, precision, accuracy, known or sensitive locations, and the use of de-identifying technologies. 

Stacey Gray, Senior Counsel at FPF and the author of the infographic, will host a webinar to help policymakers better understand the complicated ecosystem for device location data on Tuesday, June 2nd at 12 PM EDT. The webinar will include an expanded discussion of the infographic, will answer questions about evaluating and mitigating risks in real-world location datasets, and will feature technical and legal experts, including Shane Wiley, CPO of Cuebiq; Kara Selke, VP of Commercial Development and Privacy at Streetlight Data; as well as Chelsey Colbert, Policy Counsel at FPF and Dr. Rob van Eijk, FPF’s Managing Director for Europe. To register for the event, click here.

Other recently-published resources from FPF related to privacy and the coronavirus pandemic include: 

    • Artificial Intelligence and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Machine learning-based technologies are playing a substantial role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts are using machine learning to study the virus, test potential treatments, diagnose individuals, analyze the public health impacts, and more. Here, FPF describes some of the leading efforts and identify data protection and ethical issues related to machine learning and COVID-19, with a particular focus on apps directed to health care professionals that leverage audio-visual data, text analysis, chatbots, and sensors.
    • European Union’s Data-Based Policy Against the Pandemic, Explained. Benefitting from a mature and largely harmonized data protection legal framework, the European Union and its Member States are taking policymaking steps towards a pan-European approach to enlisting data and technology against the spread of COVID-19 and to support the gradual restarting of the economy. This post contains an overview of key recent events essential to understand EU’s data-based approach against the pandemic.
    • Online Learning Best Practices for Schools and Educators. As school buildings around the country close in order to protect the health of students, families, staff, and their larger communities, many schools are rapidly shifting instruction to online platforms. FPF created a helpful resource intended to help schools and educators take steps to protect students’ data during this transition.
    • The Role of Mobile Apps (Chart). Multiple apps and software development kits (SDK) have been deployed to help both private and public entities tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to better understand these technologies, the Future of Privacy Forum has created a comparison chart to contrast the objectives and methods of specific apps and SDKs.
    • Virtual Workshop: The Role of Mobile Apps. FPF recently convened a briefing with experts from government, academia, and leading companies about the use of mobile apps related to the COVID-19 public health crisis, and how data protection and ethics can be managed when sensitive health and location data are collected.
    • Senate Testimony: Enlisting Big Data in the Fight Against Coronavirus. FPF Senior Counsel Stacey Gray provided the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation with written testimony, including recommendations based on how experts in the U.S. and around the world are currently mitigating the risks of using data to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The full list of FPF’s privacy and pandemics resources can be accessed on the FPF website at

About FPF
The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is a non-profit organization that serves as a catalyst for privacy leadership and scholarship, advancing principled data practices in support of emerging technologies. Learn more about FPF by visiting