mobile privacy

07/04/2009

‘Privacy risk’ of new mobiles that give away location and stored details to marketing firms

By David Derbyshire
Last updated at 1:48 AM on 03rd April 2009

Millions of us are unwittingly signing away our rights to privacy when we upgrade to flashy new mobile phones, warn campaigners.

The latest handsets are so advanced they can reveal the location of the owner to within a few yards – along with their internet shopping habits, their interests and the names and addresses of their friends.

Although phone providers are not supposed to pass on this ‘Big Brother’ data without permission, a ‘worryingly large number’ of people give consent for the information to be sold to marketing companies, campaigners say.

iPhone 

Worries: Owners of flashy new phones could be signing away their rights

Simon Davies, of human rights group Privacy International, said the danger came when customers signed up to contracts or downloaded new mobile phone applications without reading the small print.

One of the most potentially intrusive applications is Google Latitude, which lets mobile phone owners ‘share’ their location with anyone in the world.

Mr Davies added that the risks of such snooping software on these ‘smart phones’ were far more sinister than Google’s controversial-Street View service.

‘People are giving consent for mobile phone companies to pass on this information without realising the consequences,’ he said.

‘Ninety per cent are mesmerised by the shiny new phone and don’t understand the implications of signing away rights they would normally have under the Data Protection Act.

‘People should care because this sort of information can be passed to a third party such as a credit provider or a credit reference company. It provides an enormous database that could be cherry-picked by the Government or police.

‘It provides a remarkable insight into who you are, what you do, who you know and where you have been. Unless regulators get to grip with this we are all doomed.’ 

Records of website visits, messages, phone calls and even real-life locations visited can be stored by a mobile phone company. Although each application is relatively harmless on its own, combining data from several is potentially lucrative. 

Glyn Read, a former marketing director of SAS Institute, a leading behavioural analysis company, said the ‘real worry’ would come when governments start to demand access to the data.

‘What is going on at the moment is the opening of a barn door in your personal habits,’ he told the Guardian. ‘The value of understanding people’s personal information is enormous – this will allow a form of subliminal advertising.’

Google insists that it does not  sell personal information about its users to private companies.

And it denies that it can link information about people from different mobile phone applications.

‘We don’t know where customers are at any time – the information from Google Latitude is kept separate from  information from other Google services, a spokesman said.

‘Google’s motivation is to make sure users are happy to use our services. We have to win people’s trust every day.

‘We are extremely careful with user’s information data and we make products that protect people’s privacy.’

Neil Andrew, head of portal advertising for the mobile phone company 3, said his company would only pass on information with the consent of a customer.

But he conceded: ‘Mobile is the key to understanding where a person is and what they have been browsing.’

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