Monday, March 28, 2011
German Politician Learns About His Own Cell Phone Tracking Data
An article this weekend illustrates the extent of location monitoring possible with cellphones. The phones use GPS and other technology to determine the location of the user at a given time, and the cell phone companies retain much of this data.
A German politician, after much legal wrangling, obtained this location data from his cell phone provider. In a six-month period the company recorded and saved his location longitude more than 35,000 times.
One interesting question is why the cell phone companies choose to retain this data. The government does not require them to do so, and is likely isn’t necessary for billing purposes for most users. Safety reasons may require access to instant or recent data, but would likely not require the long-term retention of the data. The government likes to access this data for investigative purposes.
The article hints that the data “could be lucrative for marketers.” This seems to be useful only if patterns of behavior are detectable from stored data. AT&T, according to the article, works with a company that uses anonymous location information “to better understand aggregate human activity.” The company’s website claims that its product “enables companies to understand customers and anticipate needs in order to deliver accurate recommendation, personalization and discovery.”
For example, if the company learns that a person goes to a coffee shop every day at 8:30 on the way to work, a competing coffee shop could send a text message or advertisement at 8:15 each morning.
It is unclear in America how this information could be obtained by customers.