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The Standard

The mobile phone: a spy in your pocket

Antoine Warnery
Like a spy in your pocket, mobile phones track your every movement and internet browsing history. The meta information is gathered and then sold to advertisers.

The telephone is one of the greatest inventions in human history. From the National Geographic to the Smithsonian, the telephone systematically makes the top 10 list of the most significant human inventions of all time, accompanying the wheel, the computer and the printing press.

The mobile phone, the portable evolution of the telephone, has amplified the benefits of its original prototype in facilitating both human communication and access to information. 

According to US Switch, Motorola was the first company to mass-produce a portable phone in 1973. However, the 3G standard, the third generation of mobile telecommunication, which kicked off the age of mobile internet access and paved the way for the rise of smartphones, launched less than 20 years ago, in 2003.

Today, barring my 80-year-old grandparents, everyone I know has a smartphone phone and would never intentionally part with it. It is the source behind modern-day efficiency giving instant access to family, friends, food, directions, answers to any question and more. 

With the advent of radio-frequency identification, enabling contactless payment from mobile devices, the mobile phone will likely fully replace wallets and credit cards in the future. 

While we as individuals have become addicted to the ultra-convenience that mobile phones provide, many fail to recognize that it is a spy in our pocket and arguably the most invasive device to private life in human history.

To put the phone’s sheer invasive power into perspective, I would like to invite the readers to participate in an exercise. If you own an iPhone, please take out your phone and go to settings. Scroll down to privacy, then go to location services. Under location services, scroll all the way down to system services, and then scroll down and click on significant locations. Take some time to explore. 

In the depths of your iPhone’s settings, your phone tracks and stores information on every move you make. Your iPhone will tell you where you have been in the last three months to a high degree of accuracy. In more detailed terms, where you have been, for how long and how you got there. 

For example, on May 2, my phone tracked that I was at Primrose Hill from 2:24 p.m. to 4:43 p.m. and that I arrived via a 23-minute walk. All of which, from what I can remember, is accurate. 

Furthermore, my iPhone has also located my home address. Based on the frequency of visits and how much time I spent in that particular location, the algorithm pinpointed that address and named it home. 

It has become a common practice for many to instantly accept privacy pop-up messages and cookies. While surfing the net after accepting these terms, your phone keeps tabs on everything you do and search for on the internet.

Ultimately, this data is sold to advertisers allowing them to serve you ads and information you are more likely to be interested in. When my brother and I were trying to convince my parents to get a dog, we kept on searching up different dog breeds, and since, I keep on being served ads about dog food. 

While the mobile phone is a major invention, it is simultaneously the most significant invasion in our private lives.

So, is lack of privacy the price to pay for the convenience of mobile phone technology? For many, it certainly is, and while the mobile phone is a major invention, it is simultaneously the most significant invasion in our private lives. 

However, many private and public organizations, including the OECD, have helped set strict guidelines and regulations by which our private information can or cannot be used. 

In Europe, the General Data Regulation Protection (GDPR) ensures the information tracked and gathered by advertising agencies are not personally identifiable. This means that while the pattern of your behaviors is tracked by your mobile device, it is not uniquely traceable back to you. 

Are you willing to give up your privacy for the convenience of your mobile phone? Personally, I have nothing to hide, and I can’t imagine having to pull out a map every time I want to figure out how to get somewhere. Yes, it can make you feel uneasy to be served ads on everything about dogs after buying a toy on Amazon for your dog. However, I would rather be served ads about something that fits my interests than something for which I have no concern.

The convenience my mobile device provides significantly outweighs corporations knowing where I was last night, what food I like to eat and what I like to do on weekends. Ultimately, yes, my actions are tracked, but they are not uniquely linked to me. My personal data is only used to group me with other people of similar background and with interests that companies think I would be keen to buy their products or services.

Defenders of extreme privacy argue that mobile phones should not keep track of your personal information. They believe there is a significant risk that this information could be used against you. However, there are strict laws protecting us and while there is always a risk of a data breach, it doesn’t outweigh the convenience all the information tracking ultimately provides. 

When flying, there is always the slight chance the airplane may crash, but I would rather take that risk than spend four weeks on a boat at sea to reach New York City.

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About the Contributor
Antoine Warnery
Antoine Warnery, Opinions Editor: Online
Antoine Warnery (’23) is the Opinions Editor: Online for The Standard. Warnery joined The Standard in Grade 10 to share his perspective on controversial topics and global affairs. Outside journalism, Warnery is an avid debater and MUN leader. Warnery has chaired international competitions at Cambridge University and is a member of the secretariat at the West London Model UN conference at ASL.

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