Smartphone Privacy: Beyond The NSA

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Some important developments in smartphone privacy are taking place.

Let’s start with the good news: The Obama administration is proposing legislation that will limit the amount of telephone data that can be accessed and stored by the National Security Agency. The Snowden controversy is at the heart of this proposed reform, which seeks an alternative to the NSA’s mass storage of telecommunication data.

The bad news? The NSA isn’t the threat to your privacy that you should be worried about. They have certainly been the center of attention since last summer (when Edward Snowden leaked secure NSA documents on data collection), but this spotlight has largely distracted Americans from another important fact: phone companies collect your data all the time.

Read their privacy policies, and you’ll find out what they do with it.

Your Wireless Carrier Collects A Lot Of Data

While government reform of telephone privacy policies is a step in the right direction, an equally critical eye should be cast on commercial data collection. Your wireless carrier (Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint in most cases) is constantly tracking your activity.

To confirm this mass data collection, look no further than their privacy policies. Verizon’s policy states that information like “call records, websites visited, wireless location,” and more can be monitored and stored for company purposes.  It also explicitly says that, “This type of information may be aggregated or anonymized for business and marketing uses by us or by third parties.” Sprint and AT&T’s policies include similar statements.

Simply put, these companies can use your data in a variety of ways, only a few of which serve you as a customer. Even though you already pay your wireless carrier for service, they use your information for further profit in the form of targeted ads and data sharing.

The security of this sensitive information is also a concern for consumers. As we all know, a long list of massive data breaches, most notably at Target, shows that no company is exempt from data breaches. Considering the breadth of information phone companies collect, including your Social Security Number, address, phone number, and all of your mobile data (such as location, browsing, and search data), wireless carriers are certainly a target.  So what happens if your carrier is hacked?

It’s time to broaden the scope from the NSA spotlight in order to see data collection holistically. It’s not just the government, wireless carriers, or hackers—even retail stores and stadiums are beginning to use Apple’s new iBeacon to track you in retail stores, sports stadiums, and more.

With smartphones as a twenty-first century standard, closer scrutiny of your own personal data is a must. Your smartphone is serving more people than you think.

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Olivia Campbell

Olivia Campbell works in public relations and product marketing for Abine. Olivia is passionate about bringing new products to market and balancing online privacy with social sharing.