Weather Alerts 12 View »

Cell phone companies are watching you

Vince Vitrano

Cell phone companies are watching you

By Vince Vitrano. CREATED Feb 11, 2012

What's the one electronic device you have with you everywhere you go? The one you just can't leave home without? Your smart phone!

But every time you download an app, search for a web site, send a text, take a picture of a QR Code, or drive past a store with your GPS on, your every move may be tracked by your cell phone company.

Marketing insider Mark Johnson is with Loyalty Marketers Association. He says about phone companies, "They know you were playing angry birds. They know that you drove by Sears. They know you drove by Dominos Pizza, so they can take that and take a very unique algorithm that can focus on your behavior. It's very impactful."

Johnson confirms your data trail is worth big bucks to cell phone companies. Many people have no idea this information is being collected, packaged with details about your age and gender, aggregated, and sometimes sold to third parties.

Smartphone user Harrine Freeman says, "It does seem creepy that companies are collecting all this information about consumers."

Harrine is so creeped out, she turns off her GPS when she drives and shops. She also clears her browser history.

 

"I think it's an invasion of privacy. I don't think cell phone companies should sell your information," she says.

All the major cell phone carriers admit to collecting your info. Verizon acknowledges it aggregates the information, and sells it to businesses without personally identifying users.

The Cell Phone Trade Association would not agree to be interviewed on camera, but some cellular companies say there's an advantage here: You get ads that are relevant and can save you money. Rainey Reitman is with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She says, "This is something that consumers are automatically opted into."

Critics say cell phone companies tell customers what data they're collecting by sending them privacy notices, that may be difficult to understand and written in fine print. They also don't like that consumers who don't want to be tracked have to make the extra effort to "opt out".

"I don't really think that most people are going to review every email they get form their cell phone company and then go through the extra step of opting out of this targeted advertisement," Reitman reasons.

To see what your cell phone carrier is monitoring--log onto its website and read its privacy policy. Johnson says be sure to read any updates your carrier sends, too, because this tracking technology keeps changing.

"The amount of data these cell phone companies have has grown tremendously over the last three to four years. With the rapid rise and proliferation of cell phones it will only continue to grow," Johnson warns.

Privacy experts say also be careful of third party apps you download that request to 'use your location'. If you don't want to be tracked always press "No".