A recent blog by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sparked widespread debate on the propriety of wireless providers tracking the ongoing precise geographical position of their smartphone owners. The ACLU blog stated that “the major carriers – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint – don’t just know where we are from moment to moment. They also retain detailed data about our location for extended periods of time…” This policy transcends the necessity to transmit location data to an Enhanced 911 call center for the purposes of sending emergency response services to an accident scene, but has now crossed over into the marketing arena.
A Treasure Trove of Data
The wireless providers are not just keeping this wealth of information for research in order to improve their services, they are seeing it as a treasure trove of data that can be leveraged to promote products and services to customers based on their geographical profile and habits. An analysis of where wireless customers habitually go can be priceless information for data miners who can then track our every move with an eye to selling us something that suits our habits, as demonstrated by where we go and when.
Creepiness Levels Reaching Overflow
The level of creepiness reaches overflow when we consider that all of this data can very easily end up in the wrong hands, publicly posted online or both. There are many smartphone users whose lives are open books and therefore they never go anywhere that they might prefer to keep secret, but there are many others who regularly involve themselves in immoral or outright illegal activities that they would rather keep from friends, family and employers. If you’re not ready to have your minute by minute position for the last few years available to anyone who cares to check it out, you might want to limit the information your smartphone transmits about your location 24/7, as well as the indefinite storage of that data in your wireless provider’s computer systems.
175 Million Customer Records Stolen So Far This Year
Some carriers may even be offering this data on the open market. Verizon has announced that it intends to sell user’s data including positioning and location tracking to “interested businesses.” Even if you are reassured that your info will be officially exchanged only with legitimate major brands, the peril always exists that someone somewhere is going to get their criminal paws on it. With over 175 million customer records stolen by hackers in just the first nine months of this year, it is obvious that consumers cannot be reassured that their data will remain safe no matter who is holding it. It would only take some minor correlation to determine how many times last month Mr. X visited his mistress as well as his favorite cocaine dealer, data which could be used to fuel a massive online blackmailing ring.
The ACLU Wants Customers to Have Control over Their Location Data
The ACLU is asking wireless providers to provide customers with explanations as to what data is being kept, who it’s being shared with and if it’s been breached or lost. The organization also asks the carriers to empower their customers by garnering their permission before storing any location information, and allowing them to limit how long that data is stored. Even if you are not a regular visitor to grow-ops and strip joint row, you might still want to keep your wireless carrier from keeping that data at all on the basis that it really is nobody’s business where you go and when.
As email marketers we might be tempted by the prospect of being able to identify habitual visitors of our competitors’ brick and mortar stores in order to concoct targeted promotions that would convince them to switch, but as wireless customers ourselves do we really want a record of our every move available to other marketers… and the hackers who will inevitably obtain it?