The Latest on Data Tracking: A Small Victory for Liberty
We have a favor to ask. It’s a big one.
But if you do it for us, we’ll make a ton of money and, well, you might be entertained for a bit.
We’re joking, of course, but stay with us.
If we sent you a small tracking device that easily slips into your pocket, would you use it?
We won’t do anything “bad” with the data. But we may sell it (for the right price, of course). We’ll certainly keep it on file. And, who knows, we might hand the info to a detective if he asks real nice.
Where can we mail your tracking unit?
Wait… what’d you say? We can shove it up our… what?
Again, we jest.
We hope all readers would reply with some variation of the line above. Our Liberty must not be infringed by anybody that feels the need to track our every move.
And yet, as you may know, that’s exactly what’s happening to just about anybody who has a phone, uses the web or logs into their email.
Our Liberty is under attack, and it’s important you know what’s going on. A lot has happened in recent weeks.
Phone Update – Victory!
To start, we’ll dive into a note reader L.D. sent us this week. He wanted our take on the news that T-Mobile quietly revealed a big uptick in government data demands.
We’ve been watching the story. The figures are wild.
Data demands soared by 17% last year.
In all, the cell phone company responded to 219,377 subpoenas… 55,372 court orders… 27,203 warrants… and 64,266 requests by law enforcement for historic customer cell site data.
This data includes who customers talked to, how long they talked to them and where they were – not just when they placed a call but simply when the phone was turned on. And in some cases, it even includes what folks said on the call.
But it’s that location data that we’ve had our eye on. There’s big news there.
Earlier this year, we wrote you and detailed the case of the U.S. versus Timothy Carpenter – a convicted thief.
The bad guy was tossed in jail after authorities used his cell phone to determine that he was in the area of the crimes that were committed.
The ACLU didn’t like that idea.
It said the government should not be able to track the people without the consent of a judge. In other words, if it wants to know where we are… get some probable cause and get a warrant.
Surprisingly, this wasn’t a slam-dunk case. It went all the way to the Supreme Court.
We finally got their ruling in June.
But again… it was no slam-dunk. Like everything these days, the 5-4 vote fell to party lines, with only Chief Justice Roberts going against his usual bedmates.
The news is big. The nation’s top court ruled that the Fourth Amendment indeed does protect a citizen’s cell phone location information.
In other words, if cops want to know where you’ve been, they’ll need a warrant. They’ll no longer be able to simply ask for the data.
It’s a victory for Liberty. The numbers we cited above will plunge this year.
More Trouble Ahead
But don’t think the problem is solved. Far from it. The Carpenter case opened the door for a slew of other legal challenges, including how authorities can use new technology to track folks in public spaces.
And let’s not forget one the biggest misconceptions of the day. The Constitution is designed to protect people from the state. It does a good job of it. But it does very little to protect the people from the people.
In other words, your cell phone provider can still track you, it can still see who you’re calling and it can still sell that data to any third party you allow (no matter how small the fine print was that you overlooked).
And here’s what most folks don’t understand.
It’s not just your phone.
Just this week, Yahoo admitted it mines its users’ email for marketing data that it can sell to advertisers.
Every day, the company has its bots scanning its more than 200 million user accounts searching for clues of what its customers may be buying next. It then sells those clues to marketers looking to send highly targeted ads to prospective buyers.
It’s a smart system. It’s certainly helping to keep the failing email provider afloat.
But I say we use our powers to toy with their algorithm a bit.
We wonder what including mentions of puppy dogs, telescopes, chastity belts, workout tapes, scissor sharpeners and sock trees to our message will do to their bots.
Will we soon see a fresh set of ads… or will Yahoo simply give up on us?
How to Fix It
Some folks are okay with the idea of their email provider keeping tabs on their lives. After all, it’s what keeps the service free and, they figure, their data is relatively anonymous.
But many folks don’t like the idea one bit. Their data is their data and the World Wide Web is too big to be wildly tossing personal and sensitive information around.
If you’re a Yahoo user in the latter camp, you have an option. The company hides the setting, but you can opt out of these intrusive scans. Here’s a link.
Cell phone users, too, can opt out of data tracking… well, somewhat.
We learned recently that even with all tracking options off, cell phone companies are still keeping tabs on our movements.
The only true solution we’ve found is to simply turn off our phones.
We’re okay with that. And we beg readers to try it.
It’ll feel good.
But if you still want that tracking device, let us know. We’ll send you ours.
P.S. There’s something else your cell phone company isn’t telling you about its technology… your phone may be causing cancer. It’s startling research, but the evidence is undeniable.