HELP! My Phone Is Watching Me!

After the recent revelation that Apple’s iPhone and iPad store unencrypted location data, it turns out that Windows Phones are doing the same. There’s no official word on Android, Blackberry or Symbian but speculation is rife, and the US senate has asked all the major mobile manufacturers to answer some questions ahead of hearings on the subject¬†scheduled for May 1oth.

Apple’s devices are storing a detailed record of users’ every move ¬†on the device its self while Windows Phones beam your movements back to Microsoft HQ.

I’m going to give the phone companies the benefit of the doubt -tell me why I’m wrong in the comments – and assume that they are not storing the data for any nefarious purposes and that they have our best interests at heart.

But what could be done with this data and who has access to it?

Law enforcement agencies can already access this kind of data from the networks, but to do so they need a world of paperwork and judicial wrangling. I don’t have a problem with this, obviously it’s open to abuse and we could argue the rights and wrongs of any number of hypothetical scenarios but in general I don’t think we need to worry.

But unlawful access to this data could be extremely problematic; the recent phone hacking by journalists in the UK shows that unscrupulous people can and do try and access private data. Journalists tracking the movements of celebrities and politicians is the tip of the iceberg, criminals and terrorists could have a field day with data like this.

So how secure is the data? Well if you have an iPhone, not very. The data is unencrypted and if you follow the last link you can download a free bit of software that will let you view it.

Windows Phones don’t store the data locally, so anyone who wanted to access it without permission would need to hack Microsoft’s servers. This is unlikely, but as the jaw dropping Playstation Network hack shows, not impossible.

With access to your location data, social networks, emails, phone records, and perhaps even your purchase history if NFC takes off, it would be possible to paint a pretty complete record of your life. There are endless ways that this data could be used and abused by everyone from your boss to your spouse so get ready to be plunged into an Orwellian nightmare. Or not, depending on how paranoid you are.

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