MYSTERY WIRE — Chances are, you are carrying a surveillance device right now. Your cell phone is silently transmitting highly personal information to companies that specialize in scooping up digital data, which is then sold to anyone who wants to buy it.
The New York Times has unveiled a sweeping investigation into the digital data industry. It demonstrates how easy it is for private companies to track not only millions of cell phone users, but individuals, including military officers and government official, lawmen, celebrities, people traveling to and from work or home, parents taking their kids to school. The surveillance is perfectly legal and there are almost no legal limits on how the data is used or who can buy it.
The New York Times tells its readers:
With the help of publicly available information, like home addresses, we easily identified and then tracked scores of notables. We followed military officials with security clearances as they drove home at night. We tracked law enforcement officers as they took their kids to school. We watched high-powered lawyers (and their guests) as they traveled from private jets to vacation properties. We did not name any of the people we identified without their permission.
The data set is large enough that it surely points to scandal and crime but our purpose wasn’t to dig up dirt.
It’s serious business, and we knew it was happening. But the scope of the problem is demonstrated in the Times’ animated graphics that shows how anyone’s cell phone can betray their privacy.
It’s been more than a decade since we saw Batman abuse cell phone data in “The Dark Knight,” envisioning technology that he would just use to track down bad guys. Now, marketing companies just want to sell you their products. What problems could that possibly cause?
The mere collection and storage of the data puts privacy at risk for unwitting people across the globe.
The Times article looks beyond the surface questions and gives us all a lot to think about. You might not be thinking about the far-reaching implications.
You may find yourself tempted to turn your phone off, but as soon as you turn it back on, you’re on the grid.
Could a more extreme consumer reaction be in store?