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Time: Is Your Cell Phone Listening in on You?

When a Connecticut programmer revealed that Carrier IQ, a hidden program on many smartphones, had the power to transmit information about the user’s location, web searches and text messages, the blogosphere erupted with commentary. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota sent a letter to Carrier IQ, Inc., asserting that the use of the software without the consumer’s consent could violate the federal wiretap statute.

But the Carrier IQ incident is just the tip of the iceberg of surreptitious collection of information about us using key features of our smartphones — their cameras, their microphones and their ability to connect to the Internet. And our legal protections are far less secure than Franken thinks.

When a Connecticut programmer revealed that Carrier IQ, a hidden program on many smartphones, had the power to transmit information about the user’s location, web searches and text messages, the blogosphere erupted with commentary. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota sent a letter to Carrier IQ, Inc., asserting that the use of the software without the consumer’s consent could violate the federal wiretap statute.

But the Carrier IQ incident is just the tip of the iceberg of surreptitious collection of information about us using key features of our smartphones — their cameras, their microphones and their ability to connect to the Internet. And our legal protections are far less secure than Franken thinks.

It’s not surprising that we’re being tracked on our cell phones — data tracking on computers through browsers and Internet service providers has been going on for years, and what are our phones but mini-computers? But the information our phones convey is more revealing and intimate than data from our PCs, including our movements from place to place in real time and our conversations as well as our emails, status updates and web searches.

Some tracking programs, such as Carrier IQ, are installed without your permission. For others, you may intentionally download the smartphone app but not be aware of its full capabilities. Still other apps cannot be easily uninstalled if you decide to try to stop the privacy invasion.

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