Thank You to Maine for Thoughts on Big Data Privacy

By April 5, 2019 February 10th, 2020 No Comments
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We are proud to have recently been selected by the Maine Turnpike Authority to provide comprehensive transportation analytics to help with planning, policy, and operational improvements for Maine’s transportation system. We think this partnership is big news, and so do Mainers!

Several Maine newspapers, online forums, and television outlets have covered the story. The amount of attention that Mainers give their transportation department is impressive, and we encourage thoughtful writing and dialogue about the intersection of big data, transportation, and privacy.

Why Privacy Matters to Us

StreetLight Data is the leader in using Big Data to solve transportation challenges. One of the reasons for this is that we have taken the time and the steps to do so in a privacy-conscious way. I know, because I have been the VP of Privacy at StreetLight Data from the early days.

In fact, what many people don’t know is that I was the first employee, joining the two founders, Laura Schewel and Paul Friedman, in making privacy one of the pillars of the company. We built Privacy By Design into the organization from the start, and that commitment stands to this day.

We believe that Big Data is necessary to solve the overwhelming transportation challenges confronting our communities, and that with careful thought and planning, it is possible to deliver the analytics required in a way that protects consumer privacy. That’s our job.

How We Protect Your Privacy

The theme we’ve heard in discussions in Maine is this: Big Data is a critical tool for transportation, but we must make sure that privacy is protected. We agree!

In light of this, I wanted to personally reiterate a few of our privacy principles.

  1. Privacy is one of the core principles at StreetLight Data.
  2. We do not sell data about the individual locations or trips of people.
  3. Our products do not enable the tracking of individuals or the sending of marketing messages targeted to individual devices such as cell phones.
  4. Our analytics describe patterns in the movement of composite groups of people ‐ not the movement of individuals.
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In other words: we do not sell information that says, “Individual X went from location A to location B at 10 a.m. on April 4.” Our analytics describe things like, “of all the trips that crossed the Casco Bay Bridge in all 2018, X% were going to destinations in Meeting House Hill.”

We have set a minimum baseline for our suppliers in which we do not receive, process, or use personally identifiable information in the creation of our products. Throughout the product-creation process, we employ a series of multi-step multi-layered technical safeguards including automated privacy and coverage checks that ensure sufficient aggregation based on dimensions such as time, space, and land use.

Data processing occurs in our secure data repository that sits behind a multilayered network security architecture supported by system audits and controls. This is further supported by administrative safeguards and employee training.

Our products are designed to give local and state agencies, for example, data-driven analysis of transportation patterns so they can make informed decisions about budgets and development priorities, transportation equity, and the environmental impact of transportation.

We Work to Minimize Privacy Risks

In all of this, we recognize that there are risks and sometimes misconceptions regarding the emerging area of analytics using location-based information. These risks include the possibility that anonymized data could be linked together to subsequently re-identify individuals. We follow a structured approach to minimize the possibility that data could be linked together to re-identify individuals, and contractually require our customers to commit to not using our metrics to re-identify individuals.

But there is more to it than that. Regardless of whether one is a creator, custodian, or user of location data – we all have a responsibility to commit to the ongoing protection of consumer privacy. StreetLight Data actively participates as a thought leader in the growing network emerging at the intersection of big data, transportation, and privacy through groups such as Future of Privacy Forum, and encourages local government representatives to join the dialogue through initiatives including the new Civic Data Privacy Leaders Network.

We look forward to continuing the ongoing discussion alongside thoughtful and responsible innovation. More can be found on our privacy principles web page or email us at if you have more questions! We’re excited for what the coming months hold for our work in Maine, and elsewhere across the U.S and Canada.