Mobile phone users ‘signing away privacy rights’

04 Apr Mobile phone users ‘signing away privacy rights’

Telegraph, April 3, 2009

With their plethora of modern applications, the latest models disclose the user’s location with a few yards, their internet shopping habits, friends and interests. While phone providers are not supposed to pass on such data without permission, many people give consent for the information to be sold to marketing companies by not reading the terms and conditions of their contracts, it is claimed. Human right campaigners have warned that such details give companies an unprecedented insight into people’s lives. Concerns have also been raised that this could lead to further invasion of privacy, should governments begin demanding access to the data in the future. It was disclosed last week that Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and other social networking websites could be monitored by the government in an attempt to tackle internet crime and terrorism. Simon Davies from the human rights group Privacy International said customers expose themselves to revealing their personal information on their phones when signing up to new contracts without reading the small print. Another potential pitfall is when people download new mobile phone applications without checking the terms and conditions, he said. Mr Davies told the Daily Mail newspaper: “People are giving consent for mobile phone companies to pass on this information without realising the consequences. “Ninety per cent are people are mesmerised by the shiny new phone and don’t understand the implications of signing away rights that they would normally have under the Data Protection Act. “People should care because this sort of information can be passed to a third party such as a credit provider or a credit reference company. It can be used to deny you credit. “It provides an enormous database that could be cherry-picked by the Government or police. It provides a remarkable insight into who you are, what you do, who your know and where you have been. ‘Unless regulators get to grip with this we are all doomed.” The latest phone models come with satellite positioning software that can reveal the owner’s location. They allow owners to surf the web, send emails, use networking sites and shop. Records of website visits, messages, phone calls and even real-life locations visited can be stored by a mobile phone company. Combining data from several applications allows mobile phone companies to know what each customer is doing, 24 hours of the day. Marketing companies who analyse the information know more about someone’s shopping habits, lifestyle and movements than their closest friends. Glyn Read, a former marketing director of SAS Institute, a leading behavioural analysis company, said the “real worry” would come when governments start to demand access to the data. He said: “What is going on at the moment is the opening of a barn door in your personal habits. “The value of understanding people’s personal information is enormous – this will allow a form of subliminal advertising.”