Smartphone Tracking & Mobile Advertising

Smartphones are quickly becoming commonplace gadgets these days. From corporate tycoons to tech obsessed teens, almost everyone owns or wants to purchase these amazing devices. The popularity of Smartphones probably won’t suffer despite the recent barrage of outrage over location based data collection. It seems that Google and Apple both track their respective consumers’ every move. While some feigned surprise over the revelation, this information shouldn’t really shock anyone.

A considerable amount of location stats stem from user generated interaction, such as mapping applications, search queries, restaurant recommendations, and the like. Of course, thousands of Smartphone users willingly reveal their exact GPS coordinates on Facebook Places and Foursquare, or simply post their whereabouts on Twitter. Perhaps consumers see a distinction between these behaviors and Apple’s. According to reports, Apple and Google maintain massive servers that stockpile user locations as frequently as every couple of seconds.

Apple takes things a step further by creating files for individual iPhone users and storing detailed documentation of their movements without encrypting the data. This strikes privacy advocates as downright Orwellian, but both corporations gather these figures for advertising purposes and to improve the quality of their services. Companies need to know what’s going in order to deliver geo-targeted, relevant ads. Otherwise people would be stuck with ads that add no value to their lives. The logs also provide insight into dropped calls, internal/mechanical problems, and connection speed. Besides, what’s the harm in Apple knowing where you went throughout the day? Most people’s activities would be rather mundane, too monotonous to attract any interest. There’s no need to be suspicious, unless you’re doing something illegal or immoral.

Those bothered by the digital record keeping should probably read their mobile privacy policies in the future, preferably before joining a network. Apple released a public statement on this matter in June of 2010 and Google followed its lead shortly thereafter in December of 2010. Both companies should be lauded for their commitment to transparency, not criticized for their customers’ neglect. Additionally, it’s very easy to disable location tracking features on Smartphones. Manage the phone’s tracking capabilities through the settings menu. If you’re having trouble finding your way around, consult the owner’s manual or visit the manufacturer’s website for assistance. There are underground programs you can run that delete all the tracking data on your iPhone and computer for the truly paranoid.

UPDATE: Two plaintiffs in Florida just filed a class action lawsuit against Apple for iPhone tracking.

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