Insane iPhone, Paranoid Android

Do you ever feel like you’re being followed? Tracked? That someone, somewhere, knows your every move, your exact location? Well, chances are, if you have a SmartPhone, those fears are very, very real.

This sounds like a paranoid conclusion, and while the nature of the situation isn’t anything as malevolent as a stalker or a Patriot Act gone awry, the potential for abuse here is one of the most frightening aspects of modern technology.

Allow me to back up and explain. Your iPhone or Android phone has all of those snazzy GPS functions, right? You can find local restaurants, Wi-Fi hotspots or even just navigate from place to place. All of those apps function via the SmartPhone’s internal GPS system, which, of course, links up to a satellite somewhere up there in the “Great Beyond” that sends a signal back down to your phone. It’s the same function with your car’s GPS system. That alone is somewhat frightening; with that kind of technology, anyone could track your actions in real time, and see exactly where you are and where you are headed.

But the SmartPhones of today have an added bonus to make your paranoia glands shiver: a little patch of data dedicated to saving your GPS-based information. Of course, that still doesn’t seem like a big deal. The data’s safe, on your phone, right? Wrong. The data is totally unencrypted, and is open for access and sent back to your phone company every time you check into a new Wi-Fi zone. Ever use the sync function for your phone? Backing up the information onto your computer to keep it safe seems like a great idea. The problem we encounter is that your computer isn’t just deleting all of that location data right away. And here’s where things get crazy again, because there exists, out there in the world of geeks, a very simple bit of software to plant on your computer. Said software extracts the location data from your SmartPhone while it’s syncing and saves it in a file. If a hacker plants the software, that location data could easily be sent back to the hacker for their personal use.

That sounds like an extreme situation that would never happen to the average Anteater. But I assure you, it’s probably happening to you as you read this article. Ever looked closely at your End User License Agreement? You know, the big contract that pops up before you install a new program that everyone just ignores and clicks “I Agree.” All of this is right in there, hidden between layers and layers of legalese and technical jargon. Basically, because the FCC has yet to enact location data privacy restrictions on mobile information, Apple or whoever makes your SmartPhone reserves the right to save all of your location data and give it to third party corporations. Albeit the fact that the majority of these third party companies are advertising firms, but do you really want the people who make commercials having the exclusive knowledge to everywhere you’ve been and everywhere you’re planning on going?

Not that it actually stops with advertising, and the technology isn’t always used for the forces of big business. More than a few criminals have been caught thanks to forensic investigators using SmartPhone location data, and the GPS function can be used just as well to locate missing phones or persons.

But this is a prime example of the classic, Hobbesian trade-off. Which do you value more, freedom or safety? Because although I may be coming off as a crazy Libertarian right now, the truth is that the technology to track your every move, past and present, exists within your iPhone, your Android. All the government would have to do would be to snatch up that technology under the mantle of protecting its people. Whoever gets their hands on the data knows where you live, where you eat and work, not to mention who your friends are, who your doctor is, and much, much more.

The trend is nothing new, because our society is heading readily down the road toward the Orwellian government right out of “1984.” We post all of our personal information on Facebook, we Tweet our every thought, and now our phones can broadcast our every step. If that isn’t enough to make you paranoid, then I don’t know what is.

All you have to do is disenable the GPS function on your SmartPhone. And don’t complain that you can’t use the UrbanSpoon App; you aren’t going to try a new restaurant, you’re just going to get Chipotle or Korean BBQ like you always do. While the GPS may seem convenient now, it can put you in a world of hurt later.

Ryan Cady is a first-year undeclared student. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.