Legal Battles For Mobile Privacy

15 Dec 2011 | Security | 0 comments


Whether you're backtracking someone's phone number with for law enforcement purposes or tracing geographic trends of visitors to your site in order to glean business information, analyzing the metrics and trends of Internet use is a huge part of online marketing. But this shouldn't necessarily violate mobile phone carriers' presumption of anonymity. Yet, consumer advocates for cell phone privacy have had plenty on their plate recently.

Several court cases are in motion regarding mobile privacy. Senator Patrick Leahy is trying to modernize the Electronic Communications Privacy Bill to prevent the government from accessing electronic information without probable cause. Leahy also wants privacy protections applied to cloud computing and location-based messaging. It will be interesting to see how these cases affect how cloud computing and others at the forefront of this technology.

Another more recent case in involves a class action lawsuit against Carrier IQ, Apple, Motorola, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Samsung, and HTC. The plaintives contend that the Carrier IQ software, which is embedded on most smartphones, collects user data related to location, application use, browser history, videos and texts, and even keystrokes. The plaintives are alleging this form of data mining violates a number of statutes, including the Shared Communications Act and the Federal Wiretap Act.

Carrier IQ claims that their software performs mere diagnostic checks and that the more sensitive user data is not retained.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been actively researching what kind of information cell phone providers hold on to and the results may surprise you. According to a 2010 Department of Justice document, your text message details may be held on to for up to seven years, as can the contact information of the people you have spoken to. Where privacy is concerned, Verizon and T-Mobile are considered fairly innocuous, dumping many record archives after a year and not holding onto IP information. On the other hand, AT&T holds on to your information for up to five years.

Don't expect issues related to Internet privacy to get any more cogent. Even in surprisingly candid recent testimony, giants like Google and Apple have been less than forthcoming with information about what sort of data is provided to marketers. Apple copped to its mobile iAd divisions, while Google omitted reference to its Admob and Doubleclick divisions. All three of these services essentially pitch themselves to clients as high-tech ways to track the movements of consumers across the web, including the locations of visitors and how long they spend on a page.

One would hope that with all this attention drawn to the subject more emphasis will be placed on mobile privacy. With the speeds that mobile providers claim will be available soon on LTE networks, we can only hope that top companies in the industry won't think they can distract us with shiny new offerings while selling our personal data.