Smartphone, Dumb Us

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Anyone who owns a Smartphone might wonder just who is being outsmarted. As the New York Times notes:

The millions of people who use their cellphones daily to play games, download applications and browse the Web may not realize that they have an unseen companion: advertisers that can track their interests, their habits and even their location.

Smartphones, like the iPhone and BlackBerry Curve, are the latest and potentially most extensive way for advertisers to aim ads at certain consumers. Advertisers already tailor ads for small groups of consumers on the Web based on personal information. But cellphones have a much higher potential for personalized advertising, especially when they use applications like Yelp or Urbanspoon with GPS to identify a person’s location, right down to the street corner where they are standing.

The article goes on to recount in the familiar, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand fashion the opportunities for advertisers and consumers—and a bit about the risks.

“It’s potentially a portable, personal spy,” said Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, who will appear before Federal Trade Commission staff members this month to brief them on privacy and mobile marketing. He is particularly concerned about data breaches, advertisers’ access to sensitive health or financial information, and a lack of transparency about how advertisers are collecting data. “Users are going to be inclined to say, sure, what’s harmful about a click, not realizing that they’ve consented to give up their information.”

In fact, there are far bigger concerns than just advertisers knowing too much about us personally. In the wake of the invasiveness of the George W. Bush administration and its violations of civil liberties and privacy rights, there are real reasons to worry about the ability not of pizza and music hawkers, but of government entities, to track our whereabouts and doings at all times.

One doesn’t have to pull out an old copy of George Orwell’s 1984 to get the point. Let’s see more reporting, and more regular reporting, on the implications of such “progress.”

Where else do you see journalism of this quality and value?

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