The New York Times has a sobering article: How Your Phone Betrays Democracy) demonstrating how easy it is for governments and political parties to use the data gathered from our mobile phones to track us.
By tracking your movements a data-set of activities is built up that deduces your home location, as well as the identity of family and friends, your political affiliation, religious beliefs, personal activities and a great deal more.
The big technology corporations sometimes referred to as G-MAFIA (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Apple) are in the business of developing ever more effective data mining tools. Location tracking is one of them. They also use a technique known as ‘fingerprinting’ that can further identify you using your IP address, screen size and even your devices volume & brightness settings.
This data can then be on-sold to business or political parties or governments can force G-MAFIA to make it available to them.
And as we have seen with the recent protests in Hong Kong, tracking their citizen’s movements is something governments are very interested in doing.
Imagine the following nightmare scenarios: Governments using location data to identify political enemies at major protests. Prosecutors or the police using location information to intimidate criminal defendants into taking plea deals. A rogue employee at an ad-tech location company sharing raw data with a politically motivated group. A megadonor purchasing a location company to help bolster political targeting abilities for his party and using the information to dox protesters. A white supremacist group breaching the insecure servers of a small location startup and learning the home addresses of potential targets.NYT
Most of us figure, well thats all well and good but Im not a protester or activist or criminal and nobody is going to be interested in tracking me or the things I get up to from day to day.
Well that is true. Until it isnt.
Who knows if the future brings you to a place where you suddenly greatly value your anonymity and privacy? Which has long since been lost.
These are, of course, just the early days. Much of the political manipulation happening now looks no different from serving up a standard political ad at the right moment. The future, however, could get dark quickly. Political candidates rich in location data could combine it with financial information and other personally identifiable details to build deep psychographic profiles designed to manipulate and push voters in unseen directions. Would-be autocrats or despots could leverage this information to misinform or divide voters and keep political enemies from showing up to the polls on election day.NYT
Then, once in power, they could leverage their troves of data to intimidate activists and squash protests. Those brave enough to rebel might be tracked and followed to their homes. At the very least, their names could be put into registries.
Sounds Orwellian. And writing all this feels a little paranoid (perhaps it is). But as the article says, we are only just seeing the early days of this personally invasive technology.
How to protect yourself against tracking.
The NYT has another great article giving step by step instructions to avoid sharing your location information: Freaked out? 3 Steps to Protect Your Phone.
In short, the the steps are:
- Stop sharing your location with apps.
- Disable your mobile ad ID
- Turn off location sharing with Google.
The article will walk you through how to do this. It only takes a few minutes.