Mind Yo' Business
Exposing Your Life In One Click
Published: Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
It’s not your aunt that loves to gossip, your best friend that spills all your secrets, or that Facebook status you know should not have escaped your crazy mind. It is that little metal box that never leaves your person—your cherished cellular phone. Smartphones are capable of releasing such a big chunk of personal information out into the world, whether we like it or not.
To properly function, a cell phone must utilize location data that is encrypted inside the device. We may voluntarily share this information through Facebook or Foursquare, but mobile providers have access to this data and can track every single step you have made for as long as you have had a cell phone. Dutch politician Malte Spitz took his mobile provider, Deutsche Telekcom, to court and found that over the course of one year they had tracked his location more than 35,000 times.
While interning at Fortune Magazine during my senior year of high school, we spent several meetings discussing the evolution of location technology. One day in the near future, we will be able to access technology that would reveal data that has been forever hidden from the general public. For instance, it will be possible to compare the location data of two people and see if they have ever crossed paths before. Sure, such information is not necessarily vital, but it would be super awesome for a couple to view how many times their paths have crossed before they finally took notice of one another.
However, the potential dangers and nuisances that arise from the information our phones store is limitless. Whether it is ad companies using our Internet history to send us advertisements or a hacker stealing our bank accounts’ passwords, restrictions of some sort should be implemented until technological security has reached an optimal level. It is important to point out that anyone can develop a smartphone application, so user discretion is vital. Apps can download spyware or malware to your phone, creating a gateway for a hacker to enter.
Many of the applications that we use every day require us to input personal information that we would never reveal even to our closest friends—these include apps that help decide where we want to eat, play word games with our friends, and track down the Newton bus.
Mobile providers even have applications that enable users to track down other cell phones, such as AT&T’s Family Map. AT&T states that this program “provides peace of mind by being able to conveniently locate a family member.” Although I cannot speak on everyone’s behalf, I personally prioritize my privacy over the “peace of mind” of another individual. I do not believe that modern culture has come to understand the nuances of technology enough to allow such applications to exist.
Thankfully, efforts are being made to more successfully secure private information on smartphones. An app called MobileScope won a contest organized by the Wall Street Journal for its efforts to protect smartphone users. The application warns its users whenever they are releasing personal information, whether voluntarily or inadvertently. It also tracks how much your other applications transfer your data, and users are even able to set up an alert system to prevent the transfer of specific kinds of data. The creators of MobileScope seek to restrict information transparency before the problem becomes out of control. Currently, smartphones have reached such a large percentage of the planet that if users’ personal information lands in the wrong hands, the effects could be catastrophic.
The main issue I have with smartphone security is that users are pretty much powerless against dangerous forces. There is only so much we can do—check our phones’ settings, keep our phone on our person all the time, etc. Unfortunately, exercising even the most cautious discretion will not make a user immune—cell phones are wonderful tools that open doors to awful threats.