My Cell Phone Company Knows Exactly Where I Am... So What?

BlogHer Original Post

In a recent New York Times article, we meet Malte Spitz, a German Green party politician who sued his wireless provider, Deutsche Telekom, to obtain their meticulous six-month record of his physical whereabouts. As a privacy advocate, Malte was up in arms about it, hired lawyers, refused to back down, won, and then, ironically, published the entire report online. And what did all that precious data reveal?

“I really spend most of the time in my own neighborhood, which was quite funny for me. I am not really walking that much around.”
--Malte Spitz

Maybe I'm naive but I never get that 'house-arresty' feeling that privacy advocates say I should. Of course, I know marketers use this info to try to sell me stuff, but this is how it works in a rabid Capitalist system. I put up roadblocks when necessary, shred my stuff, remove myself from lists and generally eschew buying non-essentials. I don't feel barraged or even inconvenienced by age-old practice, and I've been carrying a cell phone for over a decade now. (It's billboards I hate.) At the risk of getting flamed here, I can't say this tracking business truly concerns me but maybe I just don't have enough clandestine meet-me-under-the-bridge meetings in my life.

Admittedly, I tend to forget my phone is essentially a tracking device glomming onto the nearest cell tower - that is, until I need to use the GPS. We've become hard to lose and with all the "Here I Am!" apps and sites out there (Foursquare, Latitude, Gowalla, Twitter, Yelp), it doesn't appear that we mind terribly.

If anything, we're becoming a nation of people who metaphorically stand behind the studio window on the "Today" show, waving frantically and mouthing, "Hi, Mom!" In the narcissistic atmosphere that proliferates online, so much personal info is out there it reminds me of Madonna's observation about living in Los Angeles:

"There are so many celebrities there, we cancel each other out."

I have several friends who are wildly concerned about being tracked and monitored. They fret about Big Brother and living under a full police state. Try as I might to build up a sufficient froth of anger and fear, I usually end up yawning and then making popcorn. What can I say? Fear makes me sleepy and snacky.

Quite frankly, I just don't think most of us are that interesting and that is a scarier thought than AT&T knowing that I can occasionally be found jogging around Sloan's Lake or eating eggs at Country Road Cafe. I have the same reaction when people freak out about my finding my cell phone number online. What is someone going to do? Call me to death?

“Information such as call records, service usage, traffic data, may be used for marketing to you based on your use of the products and services you already have, subject to any restrictions required by law.”
--Verizon Wireless

Now, when I took a year off from American Life and traveled around the world, my whereabouts could have proved interesting to somebody - my parents, especially. Alas, that was 1995-96 and folks were still depending on hand-written letters and long-distance phone calls for such information. Picking up my mounds of mail from American Express offices around the globe was a highly anticipated ritual, now replaced by merely glancing at my phone. (Damn, I'm old.)

I say, knock yourself out, guys. Have at it. If I was a double agent, a cheating wife or an MIA governor, I might have strong words on this issue, but I just don't think the powers that be are that organized or care enough to plot my demise. I do have moments of Quirky and outbreaks of Fascinating but overall, I am at home, the market, the dog park, the occasional bar or an airport. The only risk someone might take in tracking my every move is death by boredom.

And as for Malte Spitz, the data did reveal that he occasionally flew by plane instead of taking fuel-efficient train. ("Not that popular for a Green politician.") In the end, all that tracking revealed that his life - much like the rest of ours - is scandal-free, predictable and yes, boring. In a time of reality TV and rabid self-branding, that may be the real fear behind the data.

Photo Credit: Daryl_Mitchell.


BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns, Proprietor, ClizBiz


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