By Tracey Dowdy
In a recent article, Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler asked, “It’s the middle of the night. Do you know who your iPhone is talking to?”
In the story, Fowler outlines a problem most iPhone users aren’t even aware of, that being the volume of data-mining that occurs while you – and your phone – are asleep. “On a recent Monday night, a dozen marketing companies, research firms and other personal data guzzlers got reports from my iPhone. At 11:43 p.m., a company called Amplitude learned my phone number, email and exact location. At 3:58 a.m., another called Appboy got a digital fingerprint of my phone. At 6:25 a.m., a tracker called Demdex received a way to identify my phone and sent back a list of other trackers to pair up with.
And all night long, there was some startling behavior by a household name: Yelp. It was receiving a message that included my IP address -— once every five minutes,” Fowler says.
Data mining is nothing new, but it’s becoming an increasingly bigger problem. Though Apple stated in a recent ad, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone,” Fowler’s investigation proves that’s far from the truth. Another problem is that some of it is our fault. Charles Arthur points out that 95% of us don’t change any of the default settings on our devices, and how many of us take the time to read updates on Privacy Policies? It’s the Rule of Defaults. We’re just too lazy to try and Scooby-Doo the mystery.
Fowler published an excellent article last June that maps out how to start setting boundaries on all the information we willing hemorrhage into the ether via everything from our smartphones, laptops, tablets, and smartwatches to our smart home devices like Alexa, and our Nest doorbell.
If you’re wondering whether it’s worth the trouble to dive into the deep end and change those default settings, consider this, by default:
- If you turned on “Assistant” when you set up your Android phone, Google has been keeping a log of everywhere you’ve been.
- Your Amazon Wish List is public and keeps recordings of all your conversations with Alexa which are then listened to by both AI and human curators.
- Your “Friends” list and all the pages you follow are visible to the public on Facebook, and marketers are allowed to use your name in their Facebook ads turning your “Likes” into personalized advertising.
- Microsoft’s Cortana in Windows 10 is gathering data on you on an Orwellian scale
Fowler calls his suggestions “small acts of resistance,” but if The Handmaid’s Tale has taught us anything, those small acts of resistance are critically important. Blessed be.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.