Millions of people, every day, depend on one piece of electronic equipment to do just about everything: their smartphone. Back in the day, very few people had cell phones, and those that did used them to make emergency calls every now and then. Over the years, the simple cell phone has evolved into the smartphone. The smartphone is a multi-functional device that allows a person to send e-mail, update social networking, shop on line, play games and do anything else that can be done on a computer. Many cars have built in GPSs, but if yours doesn’t, that’s OK because you can use your Navigation app on your smartphone. In fact, one of the least used functions of a smartphone today is actually the one that allows you to make phone calls. It’s amazing that this one, small device can do so much, but what does this mean when it comes to privacy? Because the smartphone holds a large quantity of personal information regarding our shopping habits, social networking, e-mail and even banking, it now makes it easier for you to be tracked and targeted for on-line ads.
Every day, more and more people are downloading hundreds of apps made specifically for the smartphone. If you’re low on gas, the GasBuddy app can tell you which station has the lowest prices with the shortest wait time (which came in handy during SuperStorm Sandy when gas prices went up and the lines were hours long!). Banks now offer apps that make it easy to deposit a check from anywhere. All you have to do is snap a picture of your check using your smartphone and it’s deposited into your account. If you’re in unfamiliar territory, you can count on Google Maps to find directions to the hotel or restaurant where you are to have your business meeting, then after the meeting, you can use the e-mail function to check in with your office to let everyone know the status of that big project. After your workday is done, you can relax in your room and read your local newspaper, watch your local news, update your social networking status, play games or even read a book. If you’re feeling under the weather, just log onto WebMD and enter your symptoms to get a quick diagnosis or if you are having trouble with your toddler, you can check in with your favorite parenting site to see what others have done to remedy the issue. You are never far from home or the office as long as you have your smartphone.
But what does all this convenience mean to your privacy? Every site you log on to and every app you download requires you to enter some personal information, which is all saved to your smartphone. Don’t forget that many on-line businesses share information gathered with third parties. Is it worth risking your privacy in order to have the convenience of doing just about everything from this one device? Surprisingly, most people choose convenience over privacy. They feel that entering a birth date or zip code in order to have 24 hour access to websites no matter where they travel is well worth the effort. They don’t realize how this can jeopardize their privacy since millions of people may live in a particular zip code and millions more can have a particular birth date. One important factor isn’t taken into consideration: only one person has that zip code and birth date on that particular smartphone.
Each time you enter personal information for a smartphone app or download, you are risking your privacy. On-line marketers can use your information in order to target you for specific ads. They know what city your home is in from your zip code, they know your age from your birth date, they know which websites you frequent, and through the GPS function on your smartphone, they know where you are at any given time. Add your e-mail address into the mix and these marketers can fill your inbox with ads for more apps, shops, products or anything else. Your browser will also be giving you suggestions on apps or products you may be interested in because your history shows what you have purchased or downloaded.
App developers claim that a consumer must give their personal information in order to really benefit from their apps. There is, however, some debate as to what the risks to privacy are that has even Congress involved. As of now, what is being discussed the most is a way for consumers to choose a “Do Not Track” option on the sites they frequent but, so far, there is no solution to the privacy issue.