How Your Phone Betrays You

How Your Phone Betrays You, by Charlie Warzel.

Any protester who brings a phone to a public demonstration is tracked and that person’s presence at the event is duly recorded in commercial datasets. …

Within minutes, with no special training and a little bit of Google searching, Times Opinion was able to single out and identify individuals at public demonstrations large and small from coast to coast.

By tracking specific devices, we followed demonstrators from the 2017 Women’s March back to their homes. We were able to identify individuals at the 2017 Inauguration Day Black Bloc protests. It was easy to follow them to their workplaces. In some instances — for example, a February clash between antifascists and far-right supporters of Milo Yiannopolous in Berkeley, Calif. — it took little effort to identify the homes of protesters and then their family members. …

Word has already spread through the more professional protester circles to leave cellphones at home, toggle them to airplane mode or simply power them off.

Mr. Tsui, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, argued that there are three current competing visions for the internet built by China, the United States and the European Union. China is moving fast and breaking things, including civil rights. The E.U., with its focus on privacy, is making a moral point around surveillance and consent. And the United States, with its powerful tech companies, is caught in the middle, trying to weigh ethical concerns while still pushing forward on innovation for fear of being left behind by China. …

Location data is already part of the 2020 race for the White House. Political action committees for Republicans and Democrats have invested in location data to target voters based on their interest. For example, companies are enlisting data brokers to help monitor the movements of churchgoers to find conservative-leaning voters and sway their votes. …

A nightmarish possibility for modern tech on the ‘net and with phones:

Public dissent could quickly become too risky a proposition, given that the record of one’s attendance at a rally could be held against them at a later date. Big Data, once the domain of marketers, could become a means to elevate dictators to power and then frustrate attempts to remove them.

It is not difficult, in other words, to imagine a system of social control arising from infrastructure built for advertising.