The Nightmare of Our Snooping Phones


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“Data privacy” is one of those terms that feels drained of all emotion. Like plain soda. At the very least, America’s failure to build even basic data privacy protections bears flesh and blood.

This week, a senior official in the American hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church resignation after a news site said that there was data from mobile phone revealed that the manager was using the LGBTQ dating app Grindr and regularly went to gay bars. For three years, journalists had access to data on mobile phone movements and digital traces and were able to track where it went.

I know people will have mixed feelings about this. Some of you may believe that it is acceptable to use any means necessary to determine when a public figure has broken their promise, including a priest who has broken a vow of celibacy.

But to me, it’s not about one man. It’s about a structural failure that allowed real-time data on American movements to exist in the first place and be used without our knowledge or actual approval. This case illustrates the tangible results of the practice of America’s vast and largely unregulated data collection industries.

The reality in the United States is that there are few legal or other restrictions that prevent companies from compiling the precise locations of the places we roam and selling that information to anyone. This data is in the hands of companies we deal with on a daily basis, such as Facebook and Google, as well as hired information agents with whom we never interact directly.

This data is usually bundled in bulk and anonymous in theory, but it often traceable to individuals, as the story of the Catholic official shows. The availability of such a large volume of data is almost everyone creates misuse conditions that may affect both evil and virtuous.

President of revenue management, purchased commercially available location data from people’s cell phones hunting down financial criminals (apparently ineffectively). TO US defense contractors and military agencies It obtained location data from the apps people use to pray or hang their shelves. Stalkers found targets by obtaining information about contacts’ locations from mobile phone companies. when the americans go rallies or protests, political campaigns buy information about participants to target them with messages.

I’m fed up with the still lack of federal laws restricting the collection or use of location data. If I made a tech to-do list for Congress, such restrictions would be at the top of my agenda. (I am encouraged by some congress proposals and pending status legislation to restrict the collection or use of personal location data.)

Most Americans understand that our phones track our movements, even if we don’t know all the gory details. And the feeling of angry surrender or just “so what?” I know how easy it is to think. I want to resist both of these reactions.

Despair doesn’t help anyone, though that’s how I feel most of the time. Losing control of our data was not inevitable. It was a choice—or rather, a decades-long failure by individuals, governments, and companies to consider the implications of the digital age. Now we can choose a different path.

And even if you believe you and your family have nothing to hide, I suspect a lot of people would be pissed if someone followed their teen or spouse wherever they go. What we have now is perhaps worse. Potentially thousands of times a day our phones report our locations and we can’t really stop them. (Still here steps we can take to soften the hell.)

New York Times editorial board Wrote If in 2019 the US government had ordered Americans to constantly provide information about their whereabouts, the public and members of Congress would most likely revolt. However, gradually over time, we have decided, collectively and implicitly, to voluntarily submit this data.

We benefit from this location aggregation system, including real-time traffic apps and nearby stores that send us coupons. But in return, we shouldn’t have to accept constant and increasingly invasive surveillance of our movements.


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