Big Brother really is watching you — constantly. According to a new report by The New York Times, cell phone companies often “track your every move” — and they do so while keeping their customers entirely in the dark about the intrusive practice.
This disconcerting revelation came to light after German politician Malte Spitz sued his mobile provider, Deutsche Telekom, to find out exactly what information about him they had acquired. What the court revealed is shocking — even if it’s not much of a surprise to those suspicious of our ceaseless connectivity.
Between the end of August, 2009 to the end of February, 2010, Deutsche Telekom, current owner of T-Mobile, “had recorded and saved his longitude and latitude coordinates more than 35,000 times,” The New York Times reports. Privacy experts say the information divulged as a result of the lawsuit provides an unprecedented look into the invasive workings of the world’s telecoms.
“We are all walking around with little tags, and our tag has a phone number associated with it, who we called and what we do with the phone,” Sarah E. Williams, a graphic information expert at Columbia University tells the Times. “We don’t even know we are giving up that data.”
In the United States, even less is known about what level of surveillance wireless companies are conducting on their customers because these companies are not required to divulge what information they collect. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, however, that information is extensive, and is only getting more so.
One of the reasons telecoms are collecting the data is for market research purposes. Another, perhaps more troubling reason, is for the benefit of law enforcement, like the FBI and CIA.
In contrast to the installation of “cookies” by websites, which are used to gather information about a person’s online browsing habits, it is currently impossible — or at least incredibly difficult — to opt out of cell phone surveillance in the US. A variety of “do not track” services, from companies like Google and Mozilla, are now available, which prevent websites from automatically installing cookies on users’ computers.
Perhaps that will change if customers start suing their telecoms, as Mr. Spitz did in Germany. But in this age when many of us have already opted out of personal privacy by publishing a wide range of aspects of our lives online, such a fight seems unlikely.