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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Collecting Your Data

April 25, 2011

The latest controversy covers the privacy and the trade of personal data from your mobile phone more so, your smart device.  Apple is collecting iPhone and iPad users data.  However, it has also came out that Apple is not the only company collecting data.  Google has been doing the same thing with its Android operating systems.  Google came under fire when they were caught collecting similar Wi-Fi data from its street view cars.  As a smart phone user,  I was very stunned.  I did not sign up for this but, I am sure this is all covered in the fine print which no person ever reads.  After doing more research about the topic, I was more surprised of what I have learned.  This is far from being a recent issue, tracking of individuals via their cellphones has been going on for almost ten years at least.

The movements of Apple users were tracked and stored in a hidden iOS file which gets synced to their PC every time they connect the phone. The secret file was discovered by computer experts and made public at the recent Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. Apple confirms that "it "intermittently" collects location data, including GPS coordinates, of many iPhone users and nearby Wi-Fi networks and transmits that data to itself every 12 hours, according to a letter the company sent to U.S. Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) last year."

According to security analyst Samy Kamkar, an HTC Android phone collected its location every few seconds and transmitted the data to Google at least several times an hour. It also transmitted the name, location and signal strength of any nearby Wi-Fi networks, as well as a unique phone identifier." These results were reviewed and confirmed by another independent consultant. Google said it uses some of the data to build accurate traffic maps. A cellphone's location data can provide details about, for instance, how fast traffic is moving along a stretch of highway. They goes on to say that the Wi-Fi data it collects is anonymous and that it deletes the start and end points of every trip that it uses in its traffic maps. However, the data by provided Samy Kamkar, contained a unique identifier tied to an individual's phone.

The Wall Street Journal reported on April 22, 2010, "Google and Apple are gathering location information as part of their race to build massive databases capable of pinpointing people's locations via their cellphones. These databases could help them tap the $2.9 billion market for location-based services expected to rise to $8.3 billion in 2014, according to research firm Gartner Inc." Hence by buying a smart phone or a tablet PC, you are automatically consented to have Apple or Google to collect your data and target personal advertisement based on your activities. This will only help them to generate more revenue from users of there products.

More shocking is that under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC mandated that by October 1, 2001 a quarter of all new cellphones be equipped with GPS functionality that would allow authorities to track the location of users. By the end of 2002, this became a mandatory requirement of all new cellphones. Mobile phone companies have been tracking their users, in line with government mandates. Even though, there are many positive aspects with these smart devices. It could also allows your personal data to be used for commercial marketing(OS, third parties apps and mobile carriers) and government matters(police). US lawmakers have invited Apple and Google to attend a hearing on privacy next month following claims the iPhone and Android devices regularly track a user's location and stores the data. This is a step in the right direction and hopefully this is will result in giving users the option to be tracked.

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