5 Ways Your Phone Exposes Your Privacy
We think our smartphones safeguard our information much more than they actually do, according to a survey that shows the wide divide between what people believe phones keep secure and what they really share.
Most mobile phone users in the University of California, Berkeley research reported they like to keep their phones private, with 80 percent saying they wouldn't want a work colleague to reach their device. Half said they wouldn't share the phone's contents with a close friend. Makes sense, because after all, there are contacts, apps, and pictures that we just don't want anyone taking a look at, right?
But thinking we safeguard our phones by physically keeping close tabs on them is way off, according to researchers, because millions of us already provide mobile data to marketers, business analysts, and law enforcement every day. For those who aren't convinced, here are five surprising facts about your mobile insecurity.
1. Yes, Your Data Is Being Tracked, One Way or Another
Earlier this summer, an investigative report highlighted how companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, generate a lot of information from consumers' cell phone use, and make personal information anonymous, sell it to advertisers or hand it over to FBI and police officers. However, carriers don't let consumers see the same information.
In addition, phones often have tracking programs that may inadvertently collect other information. Many useful apps consumers install on their mobile devices track activity in return for their low-priced, or often free, application.
The tracking problem is so widespread that Sen. Edward Markey (D., Mass.) announced the Mobile Device Privacy Act, which will require companies to show if they use tracking software on mobile devices and reveal what information they collect. If passed into law, the bill will also mandate consent policies to allow users to control tracking software activation on their devices.
2. Worse, It Targets You
Your personal information -- from Facebook "likes" and Twitter pictures, to smartphone contact lists and Google search words --
With companies competing to suck in and analyze data at an astonishing pace, the burgeoning world of data collection provides insights into Internet-user behavior. This deep analysis mines even the most personal particulars of user actions.
For example, Target's Guest Relations Analytics accidentally told a teenager's father she was pregnant. The store's data collectors used information about her purchasing habits to predict her pregnancy, even though she did not explicitly reveal the information to Target -- or to her father -- and sent her a pamphlet about upcoming parenthood that shocked her parents.
3. Law Enforcement Doesn't Always Need a Warrant to Search Your Smartphone
Most surveyed for the study said they believe law enforcement needs special permission to access information, but that isn't the case.
Law enforcement's authority to search and seize mobile devices varies between states, and the disparities breed confusion instead of clarity. Earlier this year, the Indiana courts ruled police don't need a warrant to look up a phone number of a device they find on a scene, while in neighboring Michigan, an officer can search a phone during a traffic stop. In California, the state's Governor Jerry Brown said last fall warrantless searches of mobile devices will remain legal until the courts resolve the "complex and case-specific issues relating to the constitutional search-and-seizure protections."
It gets even murkier. In some places, if law enforcement officials can guess a password and unlock a confiscated device, they can impersonate the phone's owner by sending texts. The idea of photos, notes, apps, or personal data subject to law enforcement search without a warrant is drawing criticism from privacy advocates, who warn a patchwork of legislation and lack of definitive guidelines makes people guess where privacy and law enforcement boundaries begin and end.
4. It Can Compromise Your Safety by Broadcasting Your Location
The most buzzed-about apps at last spring's South by Southwest Interactive Festival entered on programs that automatically broadcast personal information to users in a particular place, in attempts to create a community.
The slew of "ambient social networking" apps, such as Highlight, Glancee, Sonar and Banjo, lead the trend. Like Foursquare, these apps focus on check-ins and connect with nearby people, but unlike it, they check in automatically when they are activated. They may help people reconnect with old pals and discover potential friends by linking up people with shared interests, but they can strip away anonymity, leaving users continually primed and on-guard for interaction.
Location apps could have unintended consequences by creating a digital trail of a person's whereabouts, which could fall into the hands of others. Location-sharing apps work on the assumption that sharing personal information will foster connections, not endanger the user. However, they expose users to very real danger by letting strangers know valuable information.
Transmitting location details can give a stranger the advantage of knowing your whereabouts. Even for non-location sharing social networks, the risks are present. Burglars can scan public Facebook posts, learn about families who are out of town, and give robbers and other predators a virtual to-do list for criminal activity.
5. There is No Place to Hide
We are a nation of lurkers, but the ability to slouch on the sidelines and observe the digital world may be ending as an overabundance of information tracking forces us to come out of the shadows.
Everyone knows posting on Facebook, Twitter, personal blogs or YouTube's comment section has an audience. That's the point, and users can control that audience with privacy settings. But consuming content and "just browsing," was always assumed to be private, anonymous even, but this is also being threatened.
Our society is in awe and marvels at the technological advances like Facebook and Google, endowing them with a patina of trust and fascination. Now, there is immense pressure on these companies to monetize their offerings. An easy way to do this is to track, compile and sell bits of what people willingly share.
The Nokia-funded telephone survey of 1,200 households, which reported the gap between our perceptions of smartphone security and the often starkly contrasting reality, reveals a significant lack of understanding about the ways data, searches and online social interactions are available to the public.
It is ironic that people buy elaborate cases and accessories to protect and show off their increasingly sophisticated smartphones and tablets, when in the long term, it is the intangible contents they store that are really valuable and need much more protection that we give them. ♦
Categories: News Desk