We Have Met the Enemy and It Is Us: Mobile Tracking & Hacking

When George Orwell’s classic tale of a world where the government in the guise of “Big Brother” could track your every move was published in 1949;it was thought to be a dark and paranoid work of fiction.

But that fiction is today a reality, because we no longer have to even question whether the government, companies, hackers, and even our friends, can track our every move. We know they can.

The question is, have we willingly entered into a world of wondrous and exciting social interaction, or a fool’s paradise in which we have voluntarily handed over our last shred of privacy and human dignity?

While I am a huge fan of social media, and have become pretty much completely addicted to my mobile phone, I sometimes wonder whether all this constant interconnectedness is really a good thing. Consider the following examples based on current events:

The Murdoch media phone hacking scandal has ignited in a firestorm of public outrage. Although the transgressions that we know about so far happened in England; they have already had an impact here in the US with the resignation of the publisher of the Wall Street Journal

Can we be confident that they didn’t do the same thing here  and that other US media organizations are not using such underhanded, unethical, and outright illegal methods to gather information? Well, if we could – the FBI wouldn’t be investigating, now would they?

Mobile carriers and other companies routinely track your cell phone. GPS technology embedded in your phone is extremely useful in situations such as tracking your location after a 911 call. It’s also useful though, for companies that want to make sure that you have not strayed onto private property or restricted access areas such as nuclear power plants. As long as it’s turned on, that handy dandy little gizmo in your pocket allows anyone with access to the proper technology to track to wherever you go.

Meanwhile, the Bluetooth audio accessory company, Jawbone, has come up with a new fitness device called “Up“. It’s a wrist bracelet that,  used in conjunction with a mobile app, can detect when you are eating, sleeping, resting, or exercising. It’s designed to help keep you moving towards your fitness goals.

But isn’t it also oddly reminiscent of the ankle bracelets that prisoners have to wear when they are sentenced to home detention? The difference is that in home detention, the government is keeping an eye on everything you do. If you use this new device, you’ll be in essence your own “Big Brother”. 

Now, I’m not trying to knock Jawbone’s new product. I’m just saying that the government – or anyone else who might be interested in hacking the database on which all that information that you’ve stored about yourself is hosted – could have a clear view of what most people would consider the most private parts of their lives. 

If you don’t mind living your entire life on stage, it might be a good thing. On the other hand, if you want to keep even one shred of privacy, do you want to voluntarily slap a bracelet on your wrist to perhaps (albeit inadvertently) let the world know exactly how long your nap was this afternoon? Really?

The enormously popular mobile app Foursquare also keeps track of your movements, and allows you to post them to social media applications such as Facebook and Twitter. This could be useful for example, if you had set up a date in advance with some friends to meet them at a particular place, and you wanted them to know that you had arrived. 

On the other hand, you could also just – oh, I don’t know – maybe say hello when you see them– but that would probably be too low-tech for the continually interconnected always wired mobile devotee.

It would also keep the restaurant, bar, store, hotel, or other commercial location from getting a big boost of free advertising from your Foursquare location post. 

There have also been instances where thieves have robbed people’s homes, because they knew the coast was clear based on their Facebook posts. 
The question you have to ask yourself again is, do I really want to let everybody on the planet know exactly where I am at all times? if the answer is “yes”; just know that there could be adverse consequences, and if there are – know that you brought them on yourself. 

We have met the enemy, and it is us.


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