Your Phone Knows…

…where you are. 

Of course, it does.  After all, ….

How does it know that if my wife makes a phone call from the passenger seat from the other side of Tilbury that it’s long distance?  If she waits until we’re closer to Leamington, it’s local.  (Actually the validity of long distance in a digital world is a good question for debate on another day.  We’ve come a long way from the operator having to physically pull a wire to get you connected.)

How does it happen that you hit the crest of the Ambassador Bridge and get a text message from Bell welcoming you to the United States?

Sometimes it’s close – like times you’ll drive along Riverside Drive and start to roam and get picked up by the US carrier even though we’re a river width apart.

But it’s pretty darned close.  It’s just another example of tracking that could extend the conversation from yesterday.  In the example in that blog post, students would explore a Day in the Life.  For many, that means a mobile phone that goes everywhere with you.

The potential for tracking is easily understood when put into those terms.  Living in a border city means it’s just all part of your digital and location citizenship.  But what happens with that information?

I think we’ve all seen crime shows on television.  The older ones will track the bad guys by triangulating among cell phone towers.  The more recent shows will just use the GPS in the phone as a clue to track them down.  I doubt that there’s a student who hasn’t watched a show where that’s happened.  So, bottom line is that the telephone company is tracking your location – for its purposes in providing functionality and then, presumably upon subpoena, to law enforcement in case you decide to do something illegal and need to be tracked. 

Is there anyone else that might know?

Absolutely.

If you have an Android phone, your location is tracked.  You can actually check it out by following this link:  https://maps.google.com/locationhistory  The movements of your cell phone are there for you to see, beautifully plotted as an overlay to a Google Map.  Mine is rather boring – for the most part it’s trips to places to walk the dog. But, I can click through a calendar to see where the phone has been.  I suppose if my phone is ever stolen, I should be able to retrieve it.  Other than that, it’s full of interesting dog walking data and a trip to Mac’s Milk periodically.

But Apple are the good guys, right?  They wouldn’t do that. 

Or would they?

I don’t have an iPhone to test this but did some poking around and found this article from the Guardian.  While the article itself is interesting reading, of greater interest was the link to the iPhone Tracker page.  In particular, the FAQ page left a few more questions in my mind than it answered. 

Explorations and inquiry around this makes for fascinating discussion in the class.  The big question is “Are we prepared to give up this element of privacy for the privilege of carrying a mobile phone?”

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