Your Data Isn't Safe (Even With Cell Phone Privacy Protection Plans)

Your smart phone is a portable personal data machine that records your every move. That's scary. For one, it's easy to lose and for thieves to re-sell. and that's just the phone itself. if the servers that hold all the information it collects are ever hacked, your data could end up in someone else's hands, too. that may also happen without any malicious interventions: You're allowing mobile companies to collect your information and share it with advertisers (or really, anyone), and you might not even realize it. As discovered last spring, the iPhone tracks your every move and sends it to Apple headquarters.

As smart phones increase in popularity–36 percent of consumers in the United States will use mobile Internet services by 2015 reports Vega–privacy protection will only increase in importance. the current methods are just baby steps, says Senator Al Franken the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law, who has proposed legislation to require cell companies to obtain consent before collecting data. "Recent efforts to increase the availability of mobile privacy policies, like Mr. Brock’s policy generator, 'is a good first step in informing consumers,'" Senator Franken said in an e-mail to New York Times reporter Tanzina Vega. "but it alone will not address the majority of privacy threats that consumers face on their mobile devices." given the myriad privacy concerns mobile phones present, companies are beginning to devise ways to protect customers. Yet if you want to safeguard information from one evil source, you might have to give it up to another.

Data Security: For those who want to secure all that important information you store on your phone, there are various services you can use for protection. McAfee has recently launched an anti-theft iPhone application, reports VentureBeat's Dean Takahashi. "with WaveSecure, users can back up contacts, photos, and videos as well as remotely track the location of their iPhones via the McAfee WaveSecure online portal. Users can wirelessly restore their contacts, even to an Android device. if the device is lost, stolen, or damaged–or if the user accidentally deletes data–consumers can get their data back. " this software joins competitor Lookout Mobile Security, which offers anti-virus protection, online back-up and remote tracking of lost phones. Apple also has a service, MobileMe's find my iPhone, for tracking and protecting a lost or stolen phone. 

and if you just want more security, the SafeBox app protects phones from unauthorized access, letting you encrypt text messages, create a secret phonebook, and store confidential information. 

Protects you from: Losing your phone, thieves. These services protect the private information on your phone, allowing you to backup and store your data somewhere else, so you can not only recover the information, but you can track your stolen device. they also protect from certain viruses.

still vulnerable to:  Hackers, advertisers. McAfee and Lookout Mobile come in handy if you've lost or misplaced your device, but they too present the exact problems you're trying to avoid: you give all your personal data to a company. Nor do they address any other privacy concerns–your cell phone still stores a slew of personal information that advertisers use. and while Mobile me helps a user track down their phone, the thief who stole the device can disable the app pretty easily, explains CNET's Josh Lowensohn. "they can also perform a software wipe right on the phone, which means your data gets erased, however that means you can no longer track where it is without carrier intervention."

Data Sharing Limitations: Instead of helping users back up data, certain companies help prevent you from giving up your info in the first place with simpler, more visible, privacy policies, like, PrivacyChoice, for example, reports the New York Times' Tanzina Vega. 

using the data collected from hundreds of online privacy policies, Mr. Brock and his team devised a tool to help mobile application developers create basic policies without the help of a lawyer. Developers who want to use the tool can select answers to basic questions about how they collect data, how that data is used and whether it can be deleted.

the newest Apple iOS also stops the iPhone from backing up location data on your computer and deletes the data when Location Services is turned off. 

Protects you from: Confusion on how companies will use your data. the idea is increased transparency: you know what you're sharing and because you're informed you can opt out. if you can understand a privacy policy, you might not give up personal information. and for iPhone users: you can prevent Apple from documenting your every move.  

still vulnerable to: Thieves, loss, and hackers. sure, this helps users understand what kind of information they might store on their phone or give to advertisers, but you inevitably will want to use certain location driven applications (like, Yelp or Maps), this doesn't really do anything to protect that information. 

want to add to this story? let us know in comments or send an email to the author at rgreenfield at theatlantic dot com. you can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.

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