Spying Via Mobile Phone

Many of the issues raised by Digital Rights Ireland tend to be met with blank faces due to a lack of technical knowledge by those affected. And yet when you try to put things into everyday language, people tell you you’re being alarmist.

Well here’s an absolutely true story about surveillance by mobile phones. “A Dublin security firm is to offer parents a service allowing them to track their child’s movements through the location of the child’s mobile phone”, it says here. There is one preliminary point to be made here, namely that there is absolutely nothing to limit this surveillance to children. The Security company, Top Security, are just using the parent-child thing as a marketing pitch.

This man was able to track his girlfriend, for example. It takes five minutes to register the phone, and the person being spied on need have no idea unless you choose to tell them. You could do it to a workmate’s phone in the time it took them to make a cup of tea. Or your boss could do it to your phone. Or a jealous spouse could do it. The possibilities are endless, though Top Security are understandably not pushing the seedier aspects of it.

And let’s not forget that even using it to track your kids is downright creepy, not to mention a poor replacement for decent parenting and a trusting relationship. Further, it is a breach of their privacy rights which though circumscribed compared to those of adults are still important. Parents do not “own” their children, and cannot simply sign away those rights on their children’s behalf.

Finally, the location information must be made available to the tracking company by the mobile phone companies, something which they are not permitted to do under Data Protection laws. Top Security are promising this service within a month. In the meantime they should be made aware of the problems outlined above, if not by the authorities, then by the public.

UPDATE from Simon: There’s service for you. I alerted DRI to this story this morning and I see that they’ve managed to get the plan shelved by close of business.

4 Comments

  • Fergal says:

    The Data Protections Commissioner’s comments don’t seem to have quite gotten through to the promoters of this service, who are proudly displaying the press attention here:

    http://topsec.kcodns.com/script_press.asp

  • […] One thing to point out, though. Gareth talks about the future frictions when children’s location info from their phones starts to be used as part of social network sites. He thinks that the big problem will be between parents and their children. Exactly this kind of service, with exactly the obvious problems, has already been announced for Ireland. Though, as Fergal pointed out DRI’s intervention seems to have given them pause for thought. Bebo» Digital Rights Ireland» Gareth Stack» hummingbird mentality» social networks» Technolotics» […]

  • […] My response to this argument was to point out that the expectation of society as to the acceptable standards of conduct are expressed in law, both statute and judicial. Just because a product or service meets or exceeds the expectations of a targetted customer it does not mean that it can be produced if the laws of society would preclude it. A good example of this is the location tracking tools that were being deployed by a Dublin security company. The prompt action of Digital Rights Ireland in alerting the Data Protection Commissioner resulted in the expectation of society of privacy (albeit curtailed somewhat for children) was asserted and the product had to be withdrawn. […]

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