The secret lives of phones: someone, somewhere knows where you are
Geoff White, technology producer for Channel 4 News in the UK, recently published an interesting article documenting the secret lives of phones. As part of the Data Baby project the team at Channel 4 set up a mobile phone with some pre-installed and downloaded apps and a fake virtual identity. They then began to monitor the activity on the phone over a 24 hour period. Although much of the activity on the phone was to be expected – the messaging and communication traces from calls, texts and Internet surfing – some of the activities on the phone came as a bit of a surprise to the researchers. Even when the phone wasn’t engaged in any deliberate user activity and was for all intents and purposes idle, thousands of messages were sent by the phone to various servers around the world.
Along with the text, images and other data packages, precise location details were being transmitted. In some cases that location information, along with details about the phone, was sent to advertising companies who subsequently used the data to target their advertising. Ad campaigns aside, it does raise some other questions about who else could have access to the data? The Channel 4 News team used a special device to intercept all the communication from the phone. Who else could use such a device and how else could that data be used?
The recent combination of always being connected to phone and wi-fi networks and the increasing use of data hungry and data generous apps have been responsible for this significant increase in the amount data about us and our devices that is transmitted. But how do we combat this? Is the solution to only have our phones on when we actually need to use them? That may appeal to some, but for many others the ‘always on’ lifestyle is here to stay. For most, myself included, The Channel 4 News article was probably a bit of an eye-opener. However, the more we know about how our devices and apps behave, the more chance we have of taking back control over the information we once thought was private.