Protecting Users’ Location Data From An Unconstitutional Search


Editor’s note: Eric Gundersen is the CEO of Mapbox.

Location data is highly sensitive. It contains information about where we live, our daily habits and our network of friends. We discover new places to go; avoid traffic on the way there; swipe to meet new friends once we’ve arrived; and even turn up the thermostat before we get home. When data knows this much about us it requires careful protection.

The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is likely just weeks away from a major ruling on whether the Fourth Amendment protects a user’s data, and developers need to be prepared for whatever decision comes down.

There are clear technical approaches to securing location data. Data must not only be anonymized and aggregated, but also secured with techniques like on-device encryption and tamper-proof hardware security keys. Measures like these can protect against unauthorized access. But what happens when the authorities tell you to remove those safeguards, unlock those…

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