Smartphones and privacy issues

How much privacy does one expect, want or demand when using a smartphone?

Those seem to be the prime questions surrounding congressional and Federal Trade Commission hearings on privacy issues as they relate to mobile Internet-based services.

According to an Associated Press article, “America’s tech industry is finalizing voluntary disclosure standards on the sensitive information being sucked from your smartphone like your location, surfing habits and contacts. Senate Democrats are pushing for a clearer opt-out button for all online tracking. And Microsoft is offering a new browser that encourages people to block the technology that enables tracking.”

The industry, though, believes people don’t mind trading some personal information in exchange for free access to apps, games or travel aids, such as Google Maps.

In exchange for free or cheap apps, most programs want information about you: Name, birthday, ZIP code, email address, sometimes real-world address, etc. Developers maintain the information is necessary for the apps to work properly, but it also can be used for targeted advertising, tracking personal movements and potential identify theft.

The ability of a smartphone to be tracked, has many privacy advocates worried it makes the user more susceptible to being stalked or having their identity stolen because over time hackers could learn the person’s personal habits.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center, has been quoted by the AP as saying most consumers aren’t even aware of the extent to which their information is being collected and how it’s used. And as with any product on the market, companies should be required to take meaningful steps to make sure people don’t get hurt.

“People shouldn’t have to lose their privacy to use Internet-based services,” Rotenberg said.

Many Democrats and some libertarian Republicans want a way for consumers to opt out of providing that personal information, yet still be able to obtain and effectively use the apps.

The Digital Advertising Alliance contends its web-based icon program, which links consumers to an opt-out site of participating advertisers, has 20 million visitors with only 1 million choosing to opt out of all ad tracking.

As consumers, how much privacy do we expect and/or demand when we use our smartphones? We don’t want third parties listening in on our telephone (mobile or landline) calls, so why would we accept some ad agency or corporate snoop “listening in” on our Internet use or tracking our every movement? And, shouldn’t it be up to the consumer to decide who gets what personal information about him/her?

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Speaking of privacy issues, one needs to remember rants on forums, Facebook, Twitter, etc. can come back to haunt the poster.

An Ohio man arrested for drunken driving and given probation for the charge, is now serving time in jail for his subsequent rants on Facebook surrounding the incident.

It seems the 27-year-old didn’t like the police or judge in his case and took to Facebook with comments such as “stop shooting up schools and start shooting cops in courthouses” and “kill your local judges!!!!!!!.”

In pleading guilty to attempted retaliation, the man said he did it for “shock value.”

The “shock value” turned out to be his sentence of 17 months in prison for the rants.

Remember, with free speech also comes legal obligation and responsibility.

Contact Jim Smith at jsmith@newsandsentinel.com.