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Mexican telcos now sharing user locations with authorities

Bnamericas Published: Tuesday, April 07, 2020
Mexican telcos now sharing user locations with authorities

Mobile carriers in Mexico City will provide the local government with access to cell phone location data to help track the movement of people in the capital amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This will happen through the digital agency for public innovation (ADIP) with the purpose of identifying whether people in the city are complying with the isolation measures imposed, according to the government. The data shared are anonymized, the parties say.

This collaboration is in line with the measures adopted by other countries in Europe and Asia, which implemented emergency coronavirus measures that digitally track citizen location data and health records. Mexico had 121mn mobile phone lines registered at the end of the third quarter of 2019, according to the latest data available from regulator IFT.

These initiatives have raised concerns about potential breaches of data privacy.

“Exceptional times call for exceptional measures. The important thing is that these measures remain in place only for the time they are deemed necessary,” Eduardo Tardelli CEO of compliance software provider upLexis and member of Brazilian lawtechs and legaltech association AB2L, told BNamericas.


In Brazil, the five largest mobile carriers – Vivo, Claro, TIM, Oi and Algar Telecom – are sharing phone location data on about 230mn lines with regulator Anatel and the science, technology, innovations and communications ministry (MCTIC).

The lack of users’ consent to share this data was not well received in some sectors, however. 

Some analysts and civil society organizations say that this is a breach of Brazil's internet bill of rights (Marco Civil da Internet), consumer protection legislation and the LGDP data protection law. 

The latter was approved in 2018 and, after a period of adaptation, it was expected to go into effect next August. However, the Brazilian senate this week voted to postpone it for another year. This delay needs to be approved by the lower house of congress as well.

The data are anonymized and will be used to see how the population is moving in high-risk areas, telcos say. Microsoft will provide the cloud services as part of this arrangement.

Telefónica had already signed an agreement with authorities in São Paulo to offer users’ geolocation data and try to help stop the advance of the coronavirus in the state, which has become one of the main clusters of contagion in South America.

The Spanish telco is also using its big data and geolocation tools to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom. 

In Spain, together with Orange and Vodafone, Telefónica is supporting the DataCovid project promoted by the secretary of state for digitization and artificial intelligence.

In Argentina, San Francisco-based GranData uses anonymized databases from various industries and geolocation data to measure the impact of social, preventive and compulsory isolation on the movement of people.

Toronto-based blockchain firm Emerge, meanwhile, is offering some Latin American governments, such as that of Honduras, a public safety system called Civitas that links government-provided citizens’ ID numbers to identify whether individuals are allowed to leave their respective homes.

“From a public standpoint, all of that might sound excessive and can be unpleasant,” noted Tardelli. “But looking at the society and the governments, it could be crucial at a time like this.”

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