What is LinkNYC?

Have you noticed the large, towering monoliths popping up everywhere pay phones used to be? Those kiosks, part of a program called LinkNYC, are being installed by a pubic-private partnership between New York City and a consortium called CityBridge. They are being marketed by the city and CityBridge as a way to provide free Wi-Fi to address the growing digital divide. While the LinkNYC kiosks *do* provide Wi-Fi access with no monetary charge, this access definitely comes at a steep cost.  As the saying goes, "When something online is free, you’re not the customer, you’re the product."

In effect, NYC has agreed to exchange New Yorkers' personal data for advertising dollars--without our consent. LinkNYC kiosks collect identifying information about those who use their internet connections and are equipped with an array of sensors (including microphones, bluetooth beacons and multiple cameras) poised to collect petabytes of our personal data, making them like NYPD surveillance boxes dressed up in glass and aluminum. To make matters worse, CityBridge's privacy policy is vague at best. It does not make clear what can and can't be done with (and who can and can't have access to) the information its kiosks collect


Who owns and operates LinkNYC?

The short version: Google. 

The long version: It's complicated. In November 2014, the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications authorized a consortium called CityBridge to install, operate and maintain the kiosk structures. Several members of this consortium have since bought each other, merged and switched names. As of this writing, the consortium is controlled by a subsidiary of Alphabet (the company formerly known as Google) called Intersection. CityBridge promised New York City $250,000 over the next twelve years for the right to have access to data collected via Wi-Fi links.

When will LinkNYC kiosks be installed?

Right now! Hundreds of new kiosks are being installed every month, and CityBridge has contracted to install at least 7,500 kiosks across all five boroughs within 8 years. NYC is piloting this program, but CityBridge is spreading -- Washington DC had its first kiosk installed this past summer. 

Why is LinkNYC a problem?

This project does not serve the public interest as it claims. While it is marketed as helping to close the  digital divide, it does not take any real steps to do this. In addition, it significantly lowers the public’s expectation of privacy. As ever more data is collected, ever more surveillance becomes possible. CityBridge’s stated business plan does to physical space what browser cookies did to cyberspace. The LinkNYC sensors will be able to track New Yorkers’ movements, association patterns and online activities–information that ultimately could be used by governments and corporations as they saw fit.

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