The truth about how mobile data is being used by the US Government became a littler clearer this week as a secret court order was revealed which requires Verizon to hand over all phone records for all of its customers. In this massive domestic spying campaign, the US Government splits hairs over your expectations of personal privacy.
Suppose that you have a meeting scheduled with your boss. The NSA argues that while listening in on the meeting would require a warrant, but that documenting who attended the meeting, where it was held, and what time the meeting was, is within their rights to keep a file of summary notes on the meeting. Surprise, the US Government subscribes to your Google Calendar!
How does the Government collected data compare to Mobile Marketing today? Are cellphones only electronic dog collars in the name of stopping terrorism or the greatest tool ever created for real-time marketing?
Carrier Location Data:
For mobile advertising, disclosing your location at the carrier level is an opt-in requirement. Mobile marketers can determine your current location from activated cell phone privacy settings using cellular triangulation, GPS, and IP data. Positioning is different than if you want to completely share your location patterns and habits from connecting to cell towers. Carrier networks do however offer location accessible APIs if a consumer grants authorization.
Domestic spying assumes that your location history is not private, because you’re already sharing your data with a 3rd party, the carriers. Accessing this information has useful application such as 911 emergencies.
Personal Identifiable Information:
Mobile marketing is primarily based on lookalike data. Advertisers are not inherently looking for mobile personal identifiable information. They don’t want to know that they’re marketing to John Johnson top spending shopper. They want to advertise at scale to consumer profiles that have the same spending habits as John Johnson. Facebook and Google disintermediate PII data with user IDs, very granular user segments based on usage activity, and demographic profiles.
Domestic spying involves looking at vast swatches of information fragments called metadata, created as logs of all usage, and specifically tying that information to personal data. With tiny amounts of metadata, such as who you call in your network, modern data science tools can pinpoint these activities to individuals. Numerous examples exist, including one famous case that outed several people using AOL search data samples.
Mobile Advertising is largely a self-regulated market, but there are consumer protection laws on the books. Many states such as California have specific disclose laws when your habits are being sold to 3rd parties.
Domestic spying has been legalized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, that requires network service businesses to provide “on an ongoing daily basis” phone records for all “communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.” This is made available through secret FISA court orders. The rulings and outcomes of secret trial orders are unbeknownst to the public at large and most government officials, including Senators and member of Congress.
PlaceIQ does mobile profiling with location metadata and measurement when you approach nearby stores. If you see a mobile ad and then in some short time period later you’re closer to the brick & mortar store when an PlaceIQ ad loads, then there is some measure of consumer intent.
To the NSA, your current location, who you call, and your travel habits might be concurrent with those of known terrorist patterns.
Imagine being able to retarget to customers if you knew another vendor just contacted them? What if marketers sold competitive intelligence based on who you called and when? Recent Verizon court order documents raise more than just “What if?” questions, and as citizens and mobile consumers, we want answers.