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Oh Privacy, Where Art Thou?

I do realize that we are a little late in terms of reporting on this one, but truth of the matter is that we caught it pretty much the moment that it was originally posted. However, I could not really come up with a correct angle to tackle the article without sounding like a victim. As a little introduction to this, as you may already be aware, cell phone companies have various ways to track your every move. If you recall about a year ago, we uncovered CIQ, which was loaded on many devices and it could essentially rack up monumental amounts of information from several devices and make it viewable to whomever is on the receiving end of the service. Carriers claimed that their reasoning for using this was because they wanted this data to help troubleshoot and improve service by tracking things such as data connectivity, log calls, SMS, signal strength, and a whole bunch of other things. Now, we all knew back then that this was not entirely true, but people gave the carriers a run for their money for pulling such tricks on their customers without telling them.

A year later, we learn from an article posted by CNET that during a conference, a Verizon Wireless Executive essentially stated that they can see virtually everything their customers do. Nothing really new here, but the problem is that, unlike what was stated before, the data being collected is not only not being used for network maintenance but also as a VERY profitable business—to sell information. Any company that deals with end users knows and understands the importance of data metrics and trend generation when it comes to try and get their products in front of their customers. What better way to do this than by analyzing the browsing habits of your target audience, combined with geographical data? This kind of information is worth its weight in gold, and Verizon (USA’s largest carrier) knows it all too well, and capitalizes on it.

Lets go back to the statement uttered by Verizon’s Marketing Director Bill Diggins. During a press conference, he said the following, while describing the strategy deemed as Precision Market Insights:

“We’re able to view just everything that they do,” [...] “And that’s really where data is going today. Data is the new oil.”

This statement could not be more accurate, after all, it was Sir Francis Bacon who said “Knowledge is power”, and in this day and age, power can easily be equated to money. The problem with this is not as much as them selling the data, after all, if you read the fine print in your contract, you will likely notice that they claim that the data can and will be sold to third parties and Verizon partners. The biggest problem comes from the fact that the kind of information being recorded is personal and private in nature. So, while using information for statistical purposes may be OK for data mining purposes, checking out everything from what you do, what devices you use and how, all the way to what choices you make when it comes to deciding on what to put on your pizza (since companies do allow you to order online) is over the top, and quite possibly, borderline illegal. After all, entities normally allowed to do this kind of invasive searches are normally tracking you because they are about to throw you in jail for all practical purposes.

So, where can people draw the line, and more importantly how can they stop it? Verizon does have an opt-out policy, which can be found if you look for it for a little while. Having said that, it certainly makes one wonder about their place in this world of ours where we are seen, by the same people we pay for services, as giant bags of money. It also raises more questions as to what would be a good way to protect oneself from this kind of unwanted privacy breaches. Who knows? Maybe our developers could create something that renders deep packet sniffing useless, or maybe something that could retro-feed Verizon’s centers with pictures of lolcats instead of the juicy information that they are so desperately trying to mine out of us.

This is very likely not carrier specific. It just so happens that Mr. Diggings decided to brag about it in the open to a crowd that includes very privacy conscious individuals (us). So, unless you are OK with this kind of practice, I suggest that you look for the little “opt out” button and click it. And if you are OK with it, hopefully you are mindful of what you use your data for because after all… you are being watched.

You can find more information in the original article on CNET.

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