Does the Age of the Smartphone Also Mean Loss of Privacy?

By , Contributor

Smartphones have definitely changed the way people live. In previous years, the only thing important to you was the ability to make a call or send a text message anytime, anywhere. These days, smartphones allow you to do more. You can take photos and videos, listen to music, play games, find places via maps and the GPS, send instant messages, check and compose e-mails, use office programs, read e-books, and more. But it’s probably your virtual life that has changed the most since smartphones like the iPhone came into use.

For a businessman, owning a smartphone means running a virtual office remotely. For an average user, however, it’s being able to constantly check and update social networking accounts. You’re able to instantly upload photos or videos you’d like to share, tweet random thoughts, and even check in to places you go visit. Then again, all of this posting, tweeting, and geotagging can also mean sacrificing your privacy. Yes, smartphones have altered the way people communicate and spend an entire day. Unfortunately, however, owning a smartphone these days may also mean losing your right to privacy.

Facebook’s Data Use Policy Says It Can Tell Others About Your Location

“How can I lose my right to privacy when I have a VPN, a firewall, and antivirus software all running on my phone?”

Yeah, well, those are great but kind of pointless when the very social networking site you’re constantly using and updating has already compromised your privacy, and is continuously doing so. Facebook, for one, has clearly specified in its Data Use Policy the following key points:

We receive data from the computer, mobile phone or other device you use to access Facebook, including when multiple users log in from the same device. This may include your IP address and other information about things like your internet service, location, the type (including identifiers) of browser you use, or the pages you visit. For example, we may get your GPS or other location information so we can tell you if any of your friends are nearby.

We may put together your current city with GPS and other location information we have about you to, for example, tell you and your friends about people or events nearby, or offer deals to you that you might be interested in. We may also put together data about you to serve you ads that might be more relevant to you.

When we get your GPS location, we put it together with other location information we have about you (like your current city). But we only keep it until it is no longer useful to provide you services, like keeping your last GPS coordinates to send you relevant notifications.

As you can see, Facebook has clearly stated in its Data Use Policy that they have access to your location and that they can use this data to benefit you, your friends, and their advertisers (which means more money for Zuckerberg). You can try and sugar-coat this all you want but what this basically means is that Facebook knows where you are and they plan to use this information for profit.

Facebook Developing Mobile-Location Tracking App

What could probably be even more alarming are the reports that Facebook is currently developing a mobile location-tracking app. According to Bloomberg, Facebook “is developing a smartphone application that will track the location of users”, that it’s “scheduled for release by mid-March”, and that it’s “designed to help users find nearby friends and would run even when the program isn’t open on a handset.”

The app is apparently Facebook’s effort to reap profits from the growing number of mobile users. For Facebook and its advertisers, it may be huge money-maker. But for the average users, (oh, just a billion of them), it would be a giant pain in the butt and a total breach of privacy. If such an app is indeed rolling out this March, then you can pretty much say goodbye to your privacy and hello to stalkers and irritating ads. For Facebook, apparently, profits are much more important than users’ privacy.

Why doesn’t anyone in the social networking industry ever learn that people will retaliate when it’s their privacy and safety that’s at stake? Facebook-acquired Instagram had to learn this the hard way when they reworded their Terms of Service. It suffered massive backlash after the changes to the TOS led users to believe that Instagram plans to sell user photos to advertisers. The photo-sharing site, however, disproved rumors of any plans of selling user photos.

RIOT: A Program That Can Track User Movement

Aside from the actual social networking sites, private companies are also apparently using  location data for profit. According to The Guardian, multi-national firm Raytheon has secretly developed a program that can track user movement and future behavior through data collected from social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare. Dubbed as RIOT (Rapid Information Overlay Technology), the program is able to paint a picture of a person’s life — friends and places visited that are even charted on a map — in just as few clicks.

What does this mean for a user like you? The information you think you’re sharing only to friends is more likely to fall in the hands of other entities, particularly the government. Today, determining any “security risk” can also mean spying on you.

With all of these reports of social networking sites, apps, and software looking to “expose” user location, it’s hard not to get paranoid. It’s also becomes more and more apparent that with the age of the smartphones comes the loss of privacy, and the only way to stay off the grid may be to completely delete your account.

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Nancy Perkins, a full-time mommy wannabe, has been a freelance online writer for two years now. She loves sharing information on health, business, technology, fashion, women's issues and motherhood. Nancy lives life to its fullest each day and is dreaming of retiring on an island she will someday own.

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