Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Spies in your cell phone

January 16, 2009Privacy

Cell phones are the ultimate surveillance devices. For many of us, they're with us every step. They report our movements, and with the advent of pervasive Wi-Fi, they'll do it with much greater accuracy than GPS or cell-tower triangulation. Here's a BW story from my colleague, Heather Green, about all the mobile data marketers are harvesting.

Privacy groups, including the Center for Digital Democracy, filed a 52-page complaint outlining the ways marketers collect info. It's the standard mix covered in my book and elsewhere: Location data, network behavior (who and how often you call), movie review you might look at on your phone, zip codes you frequent and the demographic details about them.

The key charge is that these marketers consult data companies such as Axciom, which have dossiers on each one of us. This implies that they're targeting us not as patterns of behavior, but as individuals with a name. If this turns out to be the case, there will likely be an uproar--and Congressional action against this practice. (Meanwhile, ad groups are already lobbying the Obama adminstration not to lower the boom against targeted ads...)

The mobile data companies I'm familiar with, including Sense Networks, go to great lengths to avoid collecting identity data. They know the social and poltical reaction it would spark. There's plenty of value to be mined simply from our movements and behavior as anonymous dots.

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