The immense popularity of cell phones today has created new, previously unimaginable consumer privacy issues. As a cell phone repair firm, Life Line Your Tech Team seeks to monitor issues of public concern associated with this technology. One of the most intriguing new issues raised by the spread of cell phones during the past decade concerns the ability of cell phone carriers to generate additional revenue by selling location data. Why does this topic concern many consumer privacy advocates? And why should it matter to customers who use cell phones? This brief article explores these issues.

The Sale of Customer Data: Big Business

For generations, phone companies in the United States earned money by marketing information about their customers for commercial purposes. For example, some telephone firms also published phone books. These directories frequently charged money for display ads placed by business customers.

Yet the spread of mobile phone technology has raised concern on the part of many phone customers about privacy issues. In the past, phone companies sometimes sold lists of public phone numbers and addresses. Until recently, certain cell phone carriers marketed this type of data, too. An annoying pop-up ad that follows a consumer from a cell phone screen to a laptop computer to an Internet-connected TV does not arise by chance: frequently, a data carrier ultimately vends the customer’s location information to a marketing firm, which then re-sells it to an advertising company. Large databases maintained by various brokers involved in these types of transactions collect an array of detailed personal information about consumers.

Alleged Abuses of Real-Time Data

Unfortunately, not all data collectors utilize consumer information responsibly. Nor can they verify accuracy easily. A law firm in Maryland recently filed class action suits against four leading cell phone carriers. The complaints allege privacy violations resulted from the release of location data obtained from cell phones. The carriers deny privacy violations occurred.

In some cases, leaked information allowed private companies (including debt collectors and bounty hunters) to track the geographic locations of individual cell phones. The widespread practice of re-selling information about consumers from one enterprise to another complicates privacy issues even further. Potentially, it permits the uncontrolled duplication of erroneous data.

Privacy Concerns

The recent lawsuits demonstrate the challenge of protecting consumer privacy. Marketers today sometimes track cell phones. Consumers exercise little control over this data.