Today's uproar - The loss of privacy

by | May 3, 2011 08:48 AM ET

Today's uproar is not occurring in a concerted cry of outrage like it normally does, but instead it is occurring in the volume of material being published on so many different fronts. Two weeks ago we covered the fact that smartphones track our locations:

Today's uproar – Apple's iPhone and 3G iPad track your location and store the data in a hidden file

That is just one aspect of the problem, however. Smartphones now enable the collection of so much personal information that they contain a "digital fingerprint":

Your smartphone knows everything about you, and it tells tales

In the sexy but increasingly scary world of smartphone forensics, insiders have a name for all the personal information purposely or unknowingly stored inside that iPhone or Android or Blackberry in your pocket. They call it your "digital fingerprints."

And there are tools to help extract the data:

Cellebrite UFED system Real time mobile forensics

The UFED system extracts vital information from 95% of all cellular phones on the market today, including smartphones and PDA devices (Palm OS, Microsoft, Blackberry, Symbian, iPhone, and Google Android). Simple to use even in the field with no PC required, the UFED can easily store hundreds of phonebooks and content items onto an SD card or USB flash drive.

The loss of privacy has become so common that The Onion can use it as a joke, as seen here:

CIA's 'Facebook' Program Dramatically Cut Agency's Costs

But many people do not see it as a joke at all:

Wikileaks Founder: Facebook is the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented

Here we have the world's most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other, and their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US Intelligence.

Sometimes the loss of private information is accidental, or due to negligence, as seen in the case of Sony:

Sony Hacked Again; 25 Million Entertainment Users' Info at Risk

Hackers may have stolen the personal information of 24.6 million Sony Online Entertainment users, the company said on Monday. More than 20,000 credit card and bank account numbers were also put at risk. This is in addition to the recent leak of over 70 million accounts from Sony's PlayStation Network and Qriocity services.

Sometimes private information is sold intentionally:

Back fire: TomTom sold user data to police, motorists then targeted with speed traps

Following reports that TomTom had sold traffic data collected from GPS device users to police who then used it to determine locations for speed traps, the company has issued a statement and video in an effort to appease angry customers....

The collection of private information can also be used to create "filter bubbles":

Why is this happening? One reason is money, as explained here:

Who Owns Your Location?

The smartphones we carry have four ways to know where we are: GPS, Wi-Fi proximity, cell-tower triangulation and user check-in via services like FourSquare.
This "location data" -- information that the phone gathers about where the phone is at any given time -- has monetary value, as well as priceless social value.
In other words, there's money to be made from knowledge about where each of us is at any given moment. A lot of money. That data can be converted into contextual advertising revenue, used to create compelling new services or improve the value of existing products.

Is there anything you can do? There is a web site that helps with Facebook privacy:

You could give up your smart phone or cell phone. If you need one for emergencies, leave it off until an emergency arises.

You could travel back in time, abandoning the Internet and all electronics:

The Man Who Was Allergic to Radio Waves

But even that may not be enough, unless you stop traveling as well:

Long Island town plans extensive license plate scanning cameras to thwart property crime

The 3.3-square mile North Shore community is home to 5,000 residents. The plan calls for 44 cameras to eventually be installed at the village's 19 entrances. That's about one camera for every 120 people.

The other option is to embrace the loss of privacy at a societal level. Make everyone's personal information available for everyone to see all the time.

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