Privacy Advocates Say New York City's Fix for the Digital Divide Is a Hyper-Surveillance Mess

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Millions of dollars later, LinkNYC still hasn’t fixed the city’s stubborn digital divide or the privacy issues raised half a decade ago. LinkNYC, unveiled in 2014, was an ambitious plan to replace the city’s dated pay phones with “information kiosks” providing free public Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging, and a tablet for access to city services, maps, and directions. The kiosks are funded by “context-aware” ads based on a variety of data collected from New Yorkers. Despite widespread criticism that the program failed to deliver on many of its original goals, the city is now expanding the project with new 5G kiosks, once again claiming the effort will deliver widespread, affordable broadband access to disadvantaged New Yorkers. The corporate consortium tasked with overseeing the project, CityBridge, originally promised to deploy more than 7,000 kiosks uniformly across all five boroughs. Instead, it sluggishly deployed roughly 1,900 kiosks, predominately in Manhattan, doubling down on the digital divide the program was intended to address. The LinkNYC privacy policy indicates kiosks collect MAC addresses, “general location” data, IP addresses, browser data, time zone settings, browser plug-in types and versions, operating system and platform information, and other “device identifiers.” While the policy says much of this data has been “anonymized,” where arguments state that the term is generally meaningless.

Privacy Advocates Say NYC’s Fix for the ‘Digital Divide’ Is a Hyper-Surveillance Mess