Most people have a general sense that the cell phone we carry in our pockets record our movement. We've all heard stories of lost hikers being found through their cell signals, after all. But the full extent to which we're tracked by our cell phones is frightening.
A German politician named Malte Spitz recently released six months worth of his location data which had been collected by his phone company, Deutsche Telekom. (He had to sue to get it.) The data reveals that Deutsche Telekom recorded his location more than 35,000 times from August 31st, 2009 to February 28, 2010—or about 78 percent of the time, according to the German newspaper Zeit.
This profile reveals when Spitz walked down the street, when he took a train, when he was in an airplane. It shows where he was in the cities he visited. It shows when he worked and when he slept, when he could be reached by phone and when was unavailable. It shows when he preferred to talk on his phone and when he preferred to send a text message. It shows which beer gardens he liked to visit in his free time. All in all, it reveals an entire life.
This is concerning for anyone uneasy with the idea that their phone company theoretically knows where they are almost every minute their phone is turned on. American phone companies were not forthcoming when asked by the New York Times about how much they track their consumers, or what they do with it. They're probably selling our location to Starbucks to help them plan new stores or something. In China, the government readily disclosed that they were starting to track cell phone users' movements to fight "traffic congestion." Tracking must be the Chinese politburo's favorite cell phone feature.