Is Your Mobile Phone Information for Sale?

by Jeff Sovern

When mobile phones have GPS devices, as many smart phones do, mobile phone providers can track their customers wherever they take their phones (providers can also track phones lacking a GPS, but less precisely).  For an example, go here to see how Deutsche Telefon recorded the location of one of its customers for a six-month period.  Now Verizon has begun selling that data, as reported in the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall).  According to the article, Verizon won't sell data about individuals, but only aggregated data.  I wonder how much security that really offers, especially since deidentified data can sometimes be re-identified.  The article also notes that one customer for the data, the Phoenix Suns, is using the data to learn where the people attending its games live.  Of course, the Suns could just ask their fans, but then the fans would know that the Suns have that information or might refuse to provide it.  Other carriers are going even further.  According to the article, a European company plans to let stores know what web sites consumers are browsing while in the stores, as well as demographic information. 

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