Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Location privacy: cell phone tracking

Following on from yesterday's post about privacy concerns around using location-based services (think Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places, Google Buzz and a host of others)...

A German politician, Malte Spitz, obtained six months' worth of data held by his cell phone carrier Deutsche Telekom and had it turned into an animation by German newspaper Zeit Online. If you don't speak German then the detail will be lost on you, but the point is conveyed by the animation:

Click on the map image here and zoom in using the map controls to see really specific detail!
Dynamic map e.g. Monday 31 August 2009
6 Incoming calls
21 Outgoing calls
Duration 1h 16min 8s

34 Incoming SMS
29 Outgoing SMS

Internet connection
21h 17min 25s
What do you think? You can control how much you share with Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook and similar. But you can't do anything about the cellphone tracking without leaving the phone at home. 

Cellphone companies might choose to begin to use this data for marketing (think SMS adverts arriving as you walk past a coffee shop). But it's really only law enforcement agencies who have access to this data; and then it should be via some legal process ... Unless hackers get into the databases ... So is this really that big of a deal, in privacy terms? This doc explores some of the issues.
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