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Nadworny: The Tracking Debate

05/26/11 7:55AM By Rich Nadworny
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(HOST)  Apparently there's no hiding with your cell phone. Commentator Rich Nadworny has been thinking about the debate about personal information and tracking.

(NADWORNY)  The news that mobile phone companies track their customers, and then save all the tracking data, has caused a bit of concern for privacy advocates. They're worried that these companies will misuse this information, or that it will fall into the wrong hands. And if that happens, well watch out! Watch out for what isn't so clear, but it sounds really bad.

Just to backtrack a bit, if you have a cell phone, your provider has to know where you are for you to receive coverage. Through something called triangulation - no, not the Clinton campaign strategy - they use three different cell towers so they can get an exact location for your phone. And if they can triangulate you, you should get good phone coverage.

Other companies use your built-in GPS to track your smart phone. This has freaked people out to no end. We hate being tracked! The freedom to go untracked is as American as the freedom to not vote!  Only bad countries, like the U.S.S.R., track their citizens.

On the other hand, we could use this system to find a lost or missing person. And, to be honest, I'm more comforted by this than I am worried about potential data abuse. I like knowing that there's a way to find me if I get lost hiking in the Vermont woods. Assuming, of course, there's cell phone coverage in those woods, which is not a sure thing.

I'm not sure how anyone would misuse my info. It's really not that interesting. But it does raise a larger question. People tend to overreact to all of the data digital companies collect about us, but they seem completely oblivious to the fact that companies have collected and shared massive amounts of our personal data for many years. Why do you think you receive so many direct mail advertisements? It's because of companies buying and selling our personal information.

I think a bigger issue is why don't we as consumers control our information and have more say about how it gets used? All of that data - like my name, where I've been, what I've purchased - is mine, I think. I'm the one doing all of those things. So why do other companies own it and have the right to sell it?

One answer is that there's too much money in that data. But I think if we reframed the debate from a standpoint of fear to one of control, we would have a better chance of finding an acceptable solution.

In the meantime, I'm okay with them keeping track of me. The fact is, I live in Vermont, so there aren't too many places I can go. And until I start trying to hide something suspicious or nefarious, my trackers can knock themselves out.

Or they can use my data as bedtime reading to fall asleep.
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