By: Tori Clifford on August 2nd, 2016

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Where Does StreetLight’s GPS Data Come From?

Big Data | Retail | Transportation

At StreetLight Data, we transform trillions of geospatial data points into useful information about mobility behavior. One of the most common questions we’re asked is, “So, where do those trillions of data points come from?” For all of our StreetLight InSight® Travel Metrics as well as many of our Retail Metrics, the answer is “GPS devices.” In this blog post, we’ll discuss the different types of devices that generate the GPS data we use.


Figure 1: A Rendering of a GPS-IIRM Satellite
US National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing)

Practically any device that is designed to help consumers navigate from Point A to Point B or to find a location contains a GPS chip, and any device with GPS chip creates the type of locational records that we use. Our partner INRIX is our primary provider of data from these devices. Today, these are the types of devices that create the records in our databases:

  • Smart Phones: The GPS chip in a smartphone is activated any time that you use “location services,” whether you’re actively using a GPS application, Yelp, or even Words with Friends. On most smartphones, you can tell when your phone's GPS chip is on with the small triangle icon in the right corner of your screen (see Figure 2 below).
  • Connected Cars: That’s any car with a navigation system – and yes, often that navigation system is tracking your car’s location even when you are not using it.
  • Commercial Fleet Management Systems: These are navigational and management systems that are used by trucking companies.
  • Wearables: Select Fitbits, smartwatches and other wearable tech devices do more than measure the number of steps you take. They can also track where you go when you take them.


Figure 2: A small arrow icon is filled in "solid" instead of "hollow" on most smartphones when location services are activated. (We've added the orange circle and arrow to this image to point it out more clearly.) In this example, the Google Maps app is tracking the phone's location, which is represented by the blue dot.

We’re always looking for ways to diversify our data sources, so we expect this list to grow as new technologies are adopted. (I’m crossing my fingers for the Oombrella to take off, because it may be able to deliver both weather and mobility data simultaneously!)

Our Privacy Commitment

When we obtain these trillions of GPS data points from our data suppliers, it is “deidentified,” which means that all personal identifiers have been removed. Next, our algorithmic engine, RouteScience®, fully cleans up and anonymizes all information through normalization, aggregation, and contextualization processes to create the Metrics that we sell. Not one of our Metrics can be traced back to an individual person.

Interested in learning more about the technology and best practices when it comes to protecting location information? Learn more from the Future of Privacy Forum, and read about our Privacy Principles here.


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