Naturally, privacy watchdogs answer the question in this post title with a resounding “Yes!” The answer is so emphatic, in fact, that the Center for Digital Democracy and U.S. Public Interest Research Group are filing a 52-page complaint with the FTC today alleging that mobile marketers collect so much “non personally identifiable information” that it infringes on users’ privacy—and are “unfair and deceptive.”
Mobile devices, which know our location and other intimate details of our lives, are being turned into portable behavioral tracking and targeting tools that consumers unwittingly take with them wherever they go.
(Shh! Don’t tell them the FBI can remotely turn on the microphone of several cell phone brands and convert your phone into a roving bug, even when it’s off!)
But is the Internet private—and should it be? Is a profile that states that you are interested in outdoor rec and currently in the Santa Clara, CA, area an invasion of your privacy? And if so, should we ban all outdoor rec stores and centers in Santa Clara from collecting personally identifiable information like, say, a picture of you when you walk in their lobby? Should we prohibit all employees from asking your name and if you slip and mention it, make sure they never call you by it?
Naturally, there’s a limit to how much information a mobile phone can give marketers (without some sort of lead gen input):
As with PC-based behavioral targeting, mobile marketing companies do not typically collect names, phone numbers, email addresses or other so-called personally identifiable information.
But advocates say the information gathered is so detailed that it poses a threat to privacy. “They don’t need to know a name to know that Mobile User ‘X’ likes to search for fast food, bought a new car recently, and went on the mobile phone looking for a lower-interest credit card,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
Who, exactly, doesn’t need to know that? Marketers for fast food companies, car insurance companies or credit card companies? It’s automatically a bad thing for someone who might have a pecuniary interest in getting something you like in front of your eyes know what you like?
So what are they hoping to accomplish? Well, the complaint says that they want the FTC to look into behavioral and geographic targeting in mobile marketing, and require mobile marketers to use opt-ins and to disclose to users how their information is going to be used. Presently, text-message (SMS) marketing is opt-in, but other forms of mobile marketing, such as search and display, aren’t.
Ultimately, however, it seems that privacy advocates are hoping for a world where we can be safely anonymous online, whether we access the Internet from our computers or our phones. But remember, in this world, advertising is no more targeted or helpful than it is on, say, television.
If you’re tired of seeing commercials for Viagra, too bad. It’d be an invasion of your privacy for these companies to know, for example, that you’re a 25-year-old single woman (not their target market, but hey—maybe you know someone with ED? Your dad? (Ew.)) and you’d actually appreciate a coupon for a local Thai restaurant right about now. Nope, the closest they can get is that hey, you’re looking at a website about Law & Order; can we interest you in some investments with in a TD Ameritrade banner with Sam Waterston’s picture on it?
Oh, wait—in most online circles, isn’t blanketing wide audiences with marketing messages that they’re not interested in widely considered spam?
What do you think—is mobile behavioral and geotargeting an invasion of your privacy?
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