Whether you shop in stores or online this holiday season, your phone company is looking over your shoulder- every 7 seconds, to be exact. With the proliferation of smart phones, phone companies can collect, store, and sell an enormous amount of information about customers, often without their informed consent or knowledge. They’re watching every move you make, and selling what they learn.
The frequency and breadth of the data being collected about you is staggering. For example,
- AT&T provides “location information” to Sense Networks, which uses it for “CitySense” and advertising system that allows local nightspots to target customers based on their cellphone usage.
- Clear Channel Outdoor Americas uses mobile phone location data to learn more about who is passing its billboards and whether they purchase the advertised products.
- “Visual touch heat maps track the users’ gestures – taps, swipes, pinches—in order to better analyze their behavior and further target them.
These are just a few examples; your phone company tracks you every seven seconds, learning where you shop, what foods you like, how you travel and whether you have children- a key target market.
A Billion Dollar Business
“Aggregators” buy the data and in turn sell it to marketers for everything from Pepto-Bismol to pasta. Every seven seconds, more details about you are collected for sale to the highest bidder in the ballooning data collection industry, projected to grow to $79 billion by 2020.
You probably know that your online activities regularly unleash a barrage of advertising, but did you know traditional retailers like ones you may visit for your holiday shopping buy information on customers’ movements through their stores? Not just what they buy, but who they interact with, what they touch; even how often they go to the bathroom, through Wi-Fi enabled cell phones.
Websites, social media companies, and cell phone applications, are all hungry for this data in order to keep targeting their advertising, and keep expanding their reach.
The value of being able to report on consumers’ age, geographical location, and purchasing habits to marketers and retailers cannot be overstated. The more data points, the more value. Where and when do you shop? How much do you spend on paint? Potatoes? Did you have athlete’s foot recently? How about Asthma?
Are you at risk?
This “anonymized” data can easily be re-identified and that the sensitive personal information contained can be traced back to the individual- although phone companies and brokers will assure you it is completely secure.
Current phone privacy rules were drafted before phones tracked location, bill payments and other personal information. But many rules governing phone privacy in California are inadequate to protect modern consumers’ constitutional right to privacy, and privacy rules that apply to traditional residential landlines do not all apply to cell phones.
In fact, in a study by the Pew foundation, smartphone owners were twice as likely as other cell owners to report their phone being accessed in a way that made them feel like their privacy had been invaded.
Even Your Children Are Being Tracked
The situation is especially alarming for children who increasingly have cell phones.
Information about children that is for sale to the highest bidder—without disclosure to their parents—includes geolocation, telephone numbers and device identification.
Shouldn’t Consumers Have a Choice?
Many customers don’t realize they are being tracked, and certainly aren’t being given a choice.
TURN is demanding Choice: Customers should have a meaningful chance to OPT IN with informed, affirmative consent not just to the tracking of phone location data but also to its sale. Don’t you want a choice?
Join TURN’s email list for updates on campaigns for privacy protections and other important consumer rights. https://www.turn.org/get-involved-with-turn/email/