Virgin Mobile Phone Records Which Map Users Whereabouts Kept Indefinitely.
October 30, 2001 2:49 AM   Subscribe

Virgin Mobile Phone Records Which Map Users Whereabouts Kept Indefinitely. Admittedly, this data is only accurate to within a few hundred metres at the moment, but 'When the new breed of 3G - third generation - phones comes on stream, probably next year, they will enable the users' location to be pinpointed to within a couple of metres'. I know the current climate is increasingly pro-identity cards, pro-police state, but this can't be right, surely? Why do they want to keep this information indefinitely?
posted by boneybaloney (15 comments total)
Because it's commercially very valuable and it probably costs pennies per subscriber. E.g. that way they know where to promote their service more (or less), what demographics their subscribers are in, etc. In the future of course, it will mainly be useful for advertising.

I am not saying I am for this; however, if I had the data, I would keep the data, unless it was illegal to do so. Which I think it could be under current EU privacy regulations.
posted by costas at 3:12 AM on October 30, 2001

Unless everyone signed over the rights in the Virgin Mobile contract
posted by timetostepback at 4:09 AM on October 30, 2001

Only a terrorist would want to avoid continuous monitoring! Tracking implants today, and thought-probes tomorrow!
posted by aramaic at 4:11 AM on October 30, 2001

With security camera abuse already a problem, just think about some of the negative implications of this idea. No need to go all big brother over this in order to be worried ...
posted by walrus at 4:51 AM on October 30, 2001

"if I had the data, I would keep the data, unless it was illegal to do so" --> in france it IS illegal (but phone companys totally don't care and keep datas - the fine is lower than what they can expect from this)
"Only a terrorist would want to avoid continuous monitoring!" --> "only a fascist would write this" ;))))) - no personnal offense aramatic, but *i* sure want to avoid continuous monitoring, i don't find it fun neither useful to receive sms adds, especially when they're targetted - it's MY life and knowing it is monitored, stored, used for statitics freaks me
posted by aureliano buendia at 5:08 AM on October 30, 2001

aramaic was kidding.
posted by techgnollogic at 5:22 AM on October 30, 2001

from walrus' second link: The government is concerned that violent and disturbing scenes are readily available to the public and broadcasters through the sale of tapes. They believe the situation may ultimately lead to a public backlash over use of surveillance cameras.

So, in other words, if people knew what these things recorded, then they would object.

Ignorance = acceptance.

Gotta love it!
posted by yesster at 5:38 AM on October 30, 2001

thanx techgnollogic ;)
ok we're traked thru our mobile phones, video camera record us anywhere, our emails are read, our pets have to get microships (see ... the big brother awards will have a big time chosing this year's winner ( to have them by country) .. yes, eff was/is right ...
posted by aureliano buendia at 6:37 AM on October 30, 2001

I don't mind people wanting to know where I am, I just wish they'd give me the option and be open and clear about things. Perhaps the anti-libertarians will insist that we all live in glass houses so it can be seen that we are behaving..
posted by boneybaloney at 6:44 AM on October 30, 2001

They also apparently use the data to track their staff.
posted by kerplunk at 7:16 AM on October 30, 2001

One solution: don't use a mobile phone! Call me a Luddite, but I've never had much use for them. Not to mention the fact that they may be zapping your brain into oatmeal.
posted by groundhog at 7:29 AM on October 30, 2001

posted by cburton at 11:22 AM on October 30, 2001

It would be fairly easy to sanitize this database so that it could still be used to track movements of individual callers, without being able to identify them.
posted by dhartung at 4:24 PM on October 30, 2001

I thought all mobile phone operators stored this type of infomation? I thought that the police had used it more than once to secure convictions in criminal cases. They aren't terribly keen for it to become widespread knowlege that your mobile phone can blow your alibi for obvious reasons.
posted by salmacis at 1:17 AM on October 31, 2001

You don't need to worry about the GPS-enabled phones tracking your movements to 2-meter accuracy; the battery won't support it. Running a GPS constantly, the phone battery would wear down in a few hours and the product would be a commercial failure. (3 days or more per charge is pretty much a requirement for a successful phone product now, and phone designers jump through amazing hoops to cut power consumption as much as possible. I was involved in some of that; it's a bitch. There are so many, many neat things we could do if only batteries had about 20 times the power density they currently have. I'm really looking forward to micro fuel cells which are going to be coming in about three more years.)

In the US, accurate location of cell phones is being mandated by the FCC. Deployment is behind schedule, but it's going to happen. The main reason for it is to deal with emergency calls by cell phone users, who far too often call in and say "I need help but I don't know where I am." In such cases they've sometimes been reduced to things like moving a police car around and running its siren periodically, and then asking the guy "Louder? Quieter?" That has cost lives. (Note that it is impossible to triangulate on any phone which uses a CDMA air interface, such as IS-95 phones used by Verizon and Sprint, or any of the 3G standards including GSM 3G and CDMA 2000. It's grossly difficult to triangulate on TDMA, such as IS-136 used by AT&T or GSM 2G used in Europe and in the US by Cingular, but it's barely possible. Triangulation isn't really a practical solution for anything except AMPS.)

So the new phones (not just 3G; it's also going to be manded for all future 2G phones) will have the ability to be located much more closely. The FCC ruling doesn't mandate GPS (there are other ways of doing it depending on the underlying air technology and in most cases they're using multiple approaches because GPS can't be used when you're not under open sky) but GPS is a popular answer and a lot of phones are going to have it. But how that will be implemented is that the emergency operator at 911 will have the ability to send a signal to the phone which will cause it to take a fix and then transmit it back. It is true that the phone companies will also have that ability, but they won't be using it constantly because every time they do it will drain considerable juice from the battery.

So what the phone companies may offer is a service where you can key into your phone something akin to "Where's the nearest pizza joint?" and the company will take a fix on your location and then send you the answer back as an SMS message, or via a phone-based web browser. It won't track your position routinely, but only take a fix when it makes sense to do so. (And they'll do it if you're driving around in a White Ford Bronco running from the police. In fact, one of the ways they located OJ was that they were tracking his AMPS phone using the more limited form of tracking already in place for AMPS, which identifies the cell sector and approximate radius from the mast, by constantly sending challenges to his phone without him realizing it.)

Believe me, there's much less to this than you fear. And if someone really is using your phone to track you, you'll know because your battery will drain ridiculously fast -- and you'll be able to defeat it simply by turning your phone off. That isn't something they'll be able to override.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:27 PM on November 2, 2001

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