After The Guardian published a top secret court order requesting that Verizon give the NSA the details on every phone call on its land line and wireless networks, it has many Americans wondering just how much of their lives the government is monitoring. But have you ever wondered about the other people with access to your data?
Many were surprised when it was revealed late Wednesday that the National Security Agency has been collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of U.S. phone customers. The leaked document first reported by the Guardian newspaper gave the NSA authority to collect from all of Verizon’s land and mobile customers, but intelligence experts said the program swept up the records of other phone companies too. Another secret program revealed Thursday scours the Internet usage of foreign nationals overseas who use any of nine U.S.-based Internet providers such as Microsoft and Google.
While these practices may be unnerving, the author of a new book about the death of privacy in a cellular world, reminds us governments aren’t the only ones with access to our data.
“I don’t think the government is really the problem there, so much as marketers. They’re the ones who’ve collected huge amounts of data,” Stephen Wicker, author of “Cellular Convergence and the Death of Privacy” tells KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank Show.
Cellular companies and Internet companies are collecting vast amounts of data from their customers, Wicker explains, because they’ve found it’s very useful for targeted advertising.
“When you get that email or you get that advertisement that you just can’t resist, you’re seeing the impact of your web surfing,” says Wicker, who adds people refocus their outrage towards commercial companies.
“I think that this will help people come to understand how much data they’re giving away and how much data is collected by something like the cellular network.”
Wicker says there are ways we can protect ourselves. He suggests erasing cookies from your Internet browsers daily, avoiding use of credit cards, and being careful about what access you allow for apps, for example allowing access to location information. Beyond good daily practices, he says there are technologies available that could better protect us from companies drawing data.
“There are techniques, cryptographic techniques for example, which can protect our email. We’ve even developed some cellular technology that allows you to use cellular systems without giving away your location data. There are technical solutions. We just have to have a demand for those solutions and the service providers have to be willing to adopt them,” he says.
Wicker hopes the public’s strong reaction to the government’s use of data will give people a greater interest in what kind of information they’re already giving away, and start a larger conversation about just what is appropriate.