Earlier this week I got an email from my Mom warning me that iPhones and iPads have been collecting data on users whereabouts without permission from users. It is unclear what this data is being used for but in the words of my mother, “It is scary that they are enforcing Big Brother against our will.” If you are unfamiliar with this development click here to watch a news broadcast that ABC did about iPhones collecting data on users whereabouts.
An article by The Atlantic titled “What Does Your Phone Know About You? More Than You Think” details how private information collected on the iPhone can be easily extracted using a special software program.
I plugged my phone into my computer and opened an application called Lantern, a forensics program for investigating iPhones and iPads. Ten minutes later, I’m staring at everything my iPhone knows about me. About 14,000 text messages, 1,350 words in my personal dictionary, 1,450 Facebook contacts, tens of thousands of locations pings, every website I’ve ever visited, what locations I’ve mapped, my emails going back a month, my photos with geolocation data attached and how many times I checked my email on March 24 or any day for that matter.
As an iPhone user I am thoroughly creeped out by this fact. Sometimes I can’t remember exactly what I did and where I was on a given day, and it’s scary to think that my phone knows and records this data. If my iPhone fell into the wrong hands it seems completely plausible that someone could steal my identity and find out way too much information about me. I remember years ago when it would make headline news when a celebrity’s phone was hacked, such as Paris Hilton, and her contacts’ information was spread around on the internet for all to see and prank call. Now it seems that contacts’ information is the least of people’s problems when it comes to the type of data that is collected and stored on mobile devices.
What’s even worse is that you seemingly cannot stop Apple from collecting this data. The Wall Street Journal attempted to turn off all location services data collection but they found that information on their whereabouts was still being collected on their mobile devices. Efforts to remain private in today’s world seem futile.
The Journal disabled location services (which are on by default) and immediately recorded the data that had initially been gathered by the phone. The Journal then carried the phone to new locations and observed the data. Over the span of several hours as the phone was moved, it continued to collect location data from new places.
These data included coordinates and time stamps; however, the coordinates were not from the exact locations that the phone traveled, and some of them were several miles away. The phone also didn’t indicate how much time was spent in a given location. Other technology watchers on blogs and message boards online have recorded similar findings.
I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist (actually I don’t really mind it) but I can’t help and wonder WHY this information is being collected and how it will be used against us. We already live in a world of internet over-sharers where everyone is putting their personal/dirty laundry on display on sites like Facebook and other social media outlets for all to see. Posting information about ourselves freely and publicly on the internet allows and invites advertisers to take, compile and use this information to advertise and sell to us with great ease.
Understandably the lines between social media and advertising have become blurred. Facebook gives users the options to customize and edit their privacy settings but still there are ways that Facebook uses and sells personal information to advertisers. Facebook is very unclear about how much/what information is shared by advertisers. Just try and make sense of this:
You may see social context on third party sites, including in ads, through Facebook social plugins. Although social plugins enable you to have a social experience on a third party site, Facebook does not share your information with the third party sites hosting the social plugins.
I’m not totally sure what that means or what a social plugin is. Either way I went to “Account Settings” and then to “Facebook Ads” and clicked share with “NO ONE” just to be safe. I suggest that everyone else does the same, as I have heard speculation that Facebook can share your private photos with advertising companies to be used in campaigns on the web and elsewhere.
I guess I should just accept the fact that we live in a digitally saturated era where everyone is constantly keeping literal and metaphorical tabs on their whereabouts, while we document our every step making it easier for companies to sell to us. Sometimes it seems like the only solution is to unplug and destroy our iPhones and laptops. But then how will I play Angry Birds or check my Facebook profile?
For now all I can do is say, “Hi,” to Big Brother. I know you’re here, Mr. Brother, but you’re not welcome.