Smartphones Are Always-On Trackers

A British cell phone carrier recently surveyed smartphone users, asking for which purposes are the phones used. Telephone calling ranked fifth. More frequently cited activities included checking email, social media, listening to music, and playing games.

Since phones are more frequently used for things other than making or receiving calls and are always used as part of a tracking system, they should be called tracking devices. This is an argument posed by Peter Maass, an investigative reporter with ProPublica. Since, in his words, “our cellphones are collecting a heck of a lot more information than we expect them to be collecting about us.”

The phones “are collecting where we are – not just at one particular moment in the day, but at virtually every moment of the day,” Maass explained. “They are also taking note of what we are buying, how we’re purchasing it, how often we’re purchasing it.”

Maass continues describing how cellular service providing companies act as tracking systems, collecting and tracking data to monitor phone usage patterns and ensure that their networks adequately provide coverage throughout the service area. “While some cellphone providers eventually delete this data, other providers retain it for an essentially “indefinite periods of time,” he says.

Federal laws have yet to be drafted regulating for how long wireless providers can retain the mobile data.

When a consumer uses a smartphone, it tracks nearly every aspect of the user’s life and the lives of the user’s friends, providing service providers with ample data.

“When you know where somebody is, what they’re doing, how long you’re there for — that could be commercially useful, if not for the cell phone company, at least to other third-party companies who have things to sell,” Maass says.

Tracking data from cell phones could be a gold mine of consumer information.