Big Brother or The Secret Life of Smart Phones

George Orwell’s novel “1984” is a chilling reminder of the kind of control exercised by totalitarian regimes. The narrative describes how an all powerful entity called “The Party”, by order of the esteemed leader “Big Brother”, uses hidden cameras and microphones to keep tabs on the general populous. Anybody expressing opposing views is vilified or worse.

Sounds a bit like the kind of dystopian nightmare modern day Boat People are trying to escape from. Just as well we live in Australia, land of the free. No cameras here to keep tabs on us. Our news outlets enjoy complete editorial independence and, while owned by seriously rich people, have no interest in making us see things their way.

As for Big Brother (ignoring older male siblings), the closest we get to having one is watching narcissistic morons on a TV show by the same name. The rest of our spare time is spent on social networking sites or browsing the Internet, increasingly on our smart phones. 

It’s all good though, because we know that privacy is in short supply on the Internet, so we tread carefully; we use special software to protect ourselves from viruses; we don’t divulge our identities unnecessarily; we spot suspicious emails a mile off; we are familiar with Behavioral Tracking; we are Internet savvy!

What was that about Behavioral Tracking? I’m glad you asked!

Behavioural Tracking is one of the fasted growing business activities on the Internet. It grew from zero to 5 billion dollars in just 5 short years. Put simply, it involves building profiles of what users of the Internet look at, click at and interact with. Advertisers can bid for these profiles in real time and use them to personalise ads of any subsequent websites a user visits.

When browsing the Internet, even for a relatively short time, as many as 50 (yes, fifty!) tracking sites may record every move you make.

Now this may sound creepy to some, but it’s not all bad. Amazon.com is a case in point. As soon as you log on, Amazon.com displays a “you may be interested in these books” list, populated with books of similar genres you previously purchased. This can be quite helpful and is generally not regarded as intrusive.

For those who take their privacy seriously, it is possible to “opt out” of user tracking. Just google “How to disable cookies” and following the advice for your particular browser.

So, behavioural tracking does not sound so bad after all. The information gathered is not really identifying you as person; it just contains certain statistics about your online behaviour. What should be concerning though, is that behavioural tracking relies on the ethical standards of the trackers themselves and is not regulated in any meaningful way. Because of the rapid growth of this market, competitive pressures may well lower the ethical standards of those involved.

If you believe it to be only a matter of time until data of a far more personal nature is collected, you’d be dead wrong! Because it is already happening on a smart phone near you!

Example: The popular iPhone music app Pandora sends your physical location (including a time stamp), your phone number and ID, as well as other demographic data to as many as eight tracker sites every time you use it.

This is worth repeating: Your smart phone (YOUR) physical location and the date and time, etc are passed on to unknown companies, every time you use certain apps on your smart phone! There is no wa