Quick Facts

The Top 10 Things You should Know about LinkNYC

1. Where are LinkNYC kiosks, and how many are there?

The kiosks are currently available only in Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens, but dozens more will arrive in Brooklyn by the middle of 2017. There are a few hundred kiosks scattered through Manhattan, most of which are lined up on 3rd Avenue, 8th Avenue, and Broadway. There are a couple dozen kiosks in the Bronx and more than a dozen in Queens. The goal is to have at least 7,500 Link kiosks across all five boroughs over the next eight years.

2. How much will it cost to build these kiosks?

CityBridge, the consortium that owns these kiosks, is reportedly investing more than $200 million to build new fiber optic cable that will deliver gigabit connectivity. There’s also the contract obliging the consortium to pay New York a minimum of nearly $750 million through 2029.

3. Who is paying for this investment?

The city boasts that there is zero cost to taxpayers. That is, however, quite misleading. The business model of these kiosks is advertising revenue generated by drawing on the data of people who use the wi-fi, and through bluetooth beacons, sensors, cameras, and location services. Miles Green, the director of infrastructure engineering at Intersection, sums up the model: “We will use anonymous, aggregated information from device IDs about area demographics to build profiles of specific locations that’s valuable to advertisers.”

4. What exactly do these kiosks collect about users?

If people register with kiosks, their names and email addresses will be collected, of course. Kiosks will also collect MAC address, IP address, operating system and platform, device type, and device identifiers, details classified by CityBridge as “technical information.” Users’ web browsing activity, which is defined as “technical information,” is also collected but as of September 2016 this function has been disabled. The full privacy policy is here, but it leaves many questions unanswered. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) wrote a letter to Mayor de Blasio in March this year asking for clarification, but so far, has not received a response.

5. How will CityBridge use collected data?

From a law enforcement standpoint, any information provided to LinkNYC can be used. “Technical information” and “non-personally Identifiable Information” – anonymized and aggregated, as Link likes to emphasize – will be used for advertising. In April 2016 Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff described their business plan, “By having access to the browsing activity of people using the Wi-Fi—all anonymized and aggregated—we can actually then target ads to people in proximity and then obviously over time track them through lots of different things, like beacons and location services, as well as their browsing activity.” In October 2016, “a Sidewalk Labs spokesperson” told Fortune magazine that he misspoke, “the kiosks do not track users’ browsing activity, nor does it use such information to target ads.”

6. Are there any kiosks that provide wifi but no advertising?

Yes! But, they will only be installed on Staten Island; we’re looking into whether more widespread use of these is a viable option

7. How many people are registered users on these kiosks?

More than half a million people have signed into the internet service with their devices so far.

8. Should I be concerned about privacy if I don’t interact with these kiosks at all?

Now we are in a rather murky territory: LinkNYC kiosks have “environmental sensors” that reportedly collect information about “the environment surrounding” the kiosks. It is not clear what kind of data these sensors gather but Link’s privacy policy maintains that these sensors “do not collect data from or about you.”

9. At least there are no cameras on these kiosks – right?

Link states that the kiosk “may include a camera.” Live cameras would capture images of the area surrounding the kiosks, and those images will inevitably include users and passerby.

10. Why does Link need video footage? How will they use it?

The privacy policy does not explain why these kiosks are armed with cameras. But it attempts to assure people that the data collected by sensors and cameras will be shared with the City or law enforcement if 1) they are legally required to 2) they get advanced written permission from the City, and 3) it is necessary for system operation and maintenance.

11. How long will LinkNYC keep video footage?

No more than seven days – unless “the footage is necessary to investigate an incident.”

12. Does LinkNYC use facial recognition technology with video footage?

At the moment CityBridge policy states that the company will not use facial recognition for any reason will not use cameras to track movement through the city.

What we DON’T know?

  1. What kind of data does LinkNYC collect with environmental sensors and cameras?
  2. What is the process for citizens to find out if/when law enforcement uses their data as collected by LinkNYC cameras or sensors?
  3. Which company provides the fiber optic connectivity for kiosks?
  4. Why is there no advertising on kiosks on Staten Island?