Saturday, December 10, 2011

Who knows more about you than Google? Your cell phone provider.

Originally published 3/30/11 on lubbockonline.com/glasshouses

Malte Spitz, a German politician and privacy activist sued Duetsche Telekom and obtained 6 months of their records on him - including location data. He gives details in his blog, but perhaps the most interesting result of his efforts is the animated map of his movements during that 6 months. If you put it in satellite view, it's even a little creepy.
Mr. Spitz also makes the data available for download to play with if you want. But all of the data isn't there. Even though the telecom company routinely gathered and kept the numbers of the people he communicated with, both phone calls and texts, they did not release that information to him. So the data is incomplete. Part of the information given of the map is the number of calls and texts sent and received each day. With the phone numbers you could probably have identified his best friend, his wife or significant other, etc. The cell phone company had that information, and if he surfed the web on his phone a lot more, just waiting for someone to break in and take it. Or bid high and buy it.
Online many services are paid for with our personal information. I don't agree with that, I don't like it, but I understand it. I believe we should control what happens to our information, and we should know how it is being used by the people we're giving it to, and be able to tell them how they can and can't use it. When it comes to cell phones, cable companies, ISP's and the like, they have no right to any more information than necessary to verify we are who we say we are and determine our bills. We are already paying them for the right to use their services.

Update: The New York Times has an in-depth article on this:  It’s Tracking Your Every Move and You May Not Even Know