Pay attention to what you’re signing
There is a well-known saying about reading the fine print of a contract before signing it. It is more of a rule of thumb, especially when you sign your name on a phone contract.
Most people who don’t read contracts are later surprised when hidden fees appear, and only a rare few suspect that they are agreeing to data collection. But these measures should come as no surprise when the fine print spells it out bright as day. Such is the contract for the iPhone, which explicitly states in the agreement:
“We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used.”
The justification for this data collection is so that Apple can “better understand customer behavior and improve products, services, and advertising.”
Cell phones have always been traceable, so the ability to track them shouldn’t be news to anyone. But for the non-cellular savvy, the reason they are able to do this is relatively simple: cellphone towers.
Whenever a cell phone moves into the range of a new cell tower, the tower triangulates the cell phone’s location with other towers. This information is stored by the phone’s service provider for whatever duration of time they see fit, with or without protecting the info. Turning off the phone renders the towers unable to triangulate it.
The FBI actually used this method in 2008 to catch repeat bank robbers in Dallas — a small example of the technology being put to good use.
However, modern smartphones have made tracing and tracking worse. Any GPS-capable phone (including but not limited to the iPhone or Android devices) periodically saves data such as latitude and longitude into a file with a time stamp attached. Apple merely took this technology up a notch by putting the data into an unencrypted file that continues collecting data even if you switch phones.
The government, the service provider and data companies all are allowed unlimited access because the consumer legally signed an agreement to have the data collected and saved. It’s the equivalent of voluntarily giving up the right to privacy. Others aren’t allowed to see your data, but with unencrypted files it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to access them.
The larger message is simple, even though students seemed to have missed it. Whether it’s a phone contract, an apartment lease or a traffic ticket, do not sign your signature unless you know what you’re getting into.