Privacy experts sound off on mobile data retention

cell-towersYesterday a document detailing mobile carriers’ data retention policies was revealed. We took some time to get privacy advocates’ take on the new information, which included the fact the Verizon alone keeps your text message content for a number of days and AT&T holds onto to call records for up to seven years.

“The moral of the story is use a prepaid phone and text,” says Beth Givens, director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “If you’re concerned about retention periods of carriers, prepaid phones and texting are the way to go to maximize your privacy.”

While texting has predominantly become our mobile communication method of choice, that doesn’t mean cell users are safe. “I think this should be a concern to individuals who gave up land lines and only use cell phones,” Givens says. And of course, there’s the fact that your texting habits and even contents are anything but private. Commenting on that fact that Verizon holds onto your text message contents for 3-5 days, Givens ask “why?”

“When any company retains data for a long period of time it opens them up to problems and potential abuses. And those problems include data breaches and of course excessive or inappropriate uses by law enforcement.”

Consumers should also be aware of what cell tower data retention means. “I think it’s important that consumers know that that particular data is retained for lengthy periods. It’s increasingly rich and it can reflect one’s activities over a long period of time,” Greg Nojeim, senior counsel anddirector for the Project on Freedom, Security and Technology explains. “It’s also important for consumers to know that there is no one standard specified in the law, for law enforcement to meet in order to retain this information. Government argues it can obtain this information without proving strong evidence of cause.”

“From a consumer perspective, this revelation means that a vast quantity of information about their past activities as revealed by their location is easily available to law enforcement unless the law is changed,” he says.

Nojeim says the document reveals the amount of time companies are holding onto IP address information is actually much shorter than the bill currently going through Congress would allow. This translates into giving law enforcement more access to that data. Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says consumers need to pay attention to this type of revelation, and realize what it means. “Consumers should absolutely be concerned about how much data is being collected.  While it would be best not to have this data collected at all, we need clear rules and regulations about who has access to these records and when.  A lot of third-parties are collecting data about us: Our ISPs, our mobile carriers, social networking sites like Facebook, any number of apps, retailers, transit companies.  Combined, they create a very intimate picture of our life.  We need to know who collects what, and when, and how, so we can make sure America’s laws are consistent with how we want both companies and the government access to this very sensitive data.”

Which brings us to another platform that should pique your privacy interests. Facebook’s announcement of the Timeline, Open Graph, and new class of “frictionless” (read: Fewer permission screens requesting you to hit “accept”) apps have users concerned. Still, there seems to be some sort of perceived safety with our phones that isn’t entirely correct.

“There’s a big difference on the Facebook side, the social media side—individuals have some control there. What to post, if anything, and you can adjust your settings to maximize privacy. But on the cell phone side, as illustrated by the document, there’s a great deal we don’t have control over,” says Givens.

Nojeim also weighs in, echoing the idea that when it comes to social media, users have more of a say in what is and isn’t made public. “The customer isn’t making a decision to share something like you do on Facebook… this is forced sharing, if you will,” he says.

“I think what consumers have to know is that even if they think they are engaging in activity that to them appears to be private, it leaves behind a digital track that can be obtained by law enforcement and in many causes they won’t know about it for awhile—if ever. And the message for companies ought to be that lengthy periods of retention not tied to a business reason can compromise customer privacy. If the information isn’t retained it can’t be illicitly obtained by hackers and identity thieves.”


Windows 10 user activity logs are sent to Microsoft despite users opting out

Windows 10 Privacy settings may not be enough to stop PCs from releasing user activity data to Microsoft. Users discovered that opting out of having their data sent to Microsoft does little to prevent it from being released.

Is somebody watching you? How to stop apps from tracking your location

If you don't like the idea of your every movement being tracked by apps on the phone in your pocket, then you may want to turn location tracking off. We take a look at how to do it on an iPhone or Android phone in this easy guide.

The best iPhone deals for December 2018

Apple devices can get expensive, but if you just can't live without iOS, don't despair: We've curated an up-to-date list of all of the absolute best iPhone deals available for December 2018.

Looking for flexible and inexpensive phone service? Check out our favorite MVNOs

Looking to switch from a major carrier to something a little more affordable? Luckily, there are a ton of great MVNO options to choose from. Check out our guide to the best MVNOs, from Boost Mobile to Google Fi.
Smart Home

This device detects when your pet is at the door and opens it for them

Tired of waiting for your dog to come inside, or running home in the middle of the day to let your four-legged friend out? Wayzn automatically opens sliding doors for your dog and gives you remote control.

Apple pushing update to iPhone in China in response to legal troubles

Apple has been facing legal issues in China due to alleged infringements of patents from Qualcomm Inc. On Friday, Apple announced it will push a software update in China in hopes of resolving any potential legal issues around the iPhone.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Need a quick battery boost? Try one of our favorite portable chargers

Battery life still tops the polls when it comes to smartphone concerns. If it’s bugging you, then maybe it’s time to snag yourself a portable charger. Here are our picks of the best portable chargers.

iOS jailbreak app store Cydia shuts down purchasing

For years, iOS users have been jailbreaking their devices to install software not approved by Apple. But now the popular app store alternative Cydia will no longer be accepting purchases.

Lawsuit alleges Apple falsely advertised the screen size of the iPhone X

A lawsuit alleges that Apple was dishonest in the way that it marketed the iPhone X. The lawsuit alleges that despite Apple's marketing campaign, the new iPhone is not in fact all screen because of the notch.

Report: Samsung's upcoming foldable phone will cost a hefty $1,800

Samsung has been showcasing bendable display tech for a few years and now a folding smartphone might finally arrive. The Galaxy X, or perhaps the Galaxy F, may be the company's first example. Here's everything we know about it.

Apple is still selling iPhones in China despite being ordered not to

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.
Smart Home

Starbucks teams with Uber Eats for delivery from 2,000 of its U.S. stores

Starbucks has teamed up with Uber Eats to offer customers deliveries from almost a quarter of its stores in the U.S. The major expansion launches early next year, making life even easier for fans of the coffee giant.

Huawei Nova 4 has a hole in the screen, and a 48-megapixel camera on the back

Huawei has launched the Nova 4, a new smartphone that has abandoned the screen notch and adopted a punch hole alternative, and also has a massive 48-megapixel camera. Here's what you need to know about the Nova 4.