Is Mobile Phone a Phone or a Tracker?

The small device in your pockets that according to you, is a cellphone — Think once again. Is it a phone or a tracking device that make calls? Due to its increased usage as a tracking device, it is better to call it a tracker instead of phone.

Thanks to the explosion of GPS technology and smartphone applications, these devices are also taking note of what we buy, where and when we buy it, how much money we have in the bank, whom we text and e-mail, what Web sites we visit, how and where we travel, what time we go to sleep and wake up — and much more. Much of that data is shared with companies that use it to offer us services they think we might need.

We have all heard about the wonders of frictionless sharing, whereby social networks automatically let our friends know what we are reading or listening to, but what we hear less about is frictionless surveillance. Though we invite some tracking — think of our mapping requests as we try to find a restaurant in a strange part of town — much of it is done without our awareness.

Millions of dollars are spend every year by private companies to develop new services that track, store and share the words, movements and even the thoughts of their customers. These offensive services have proved appealing to consumers, and millions now own sophisticated tracking devices (smartphones) studded with sensors and always connected to the Internet.

Some people label their phones as tracking devices. Scholars have called them minicomputers and robots. Everyone is struggling to find the right tag, because “cellphone” and “smartphone” are inadequate. This is not a semantic game. Names matter, quite a bit. In politics and advertising, framing is regarded as essential because what you call something influences what you think about it.

In just the past few years, cellphone companies have honed their geographic technology, which has become almost pin point. The surveillance and privacy implications are quite simple. If someone knows exactly where you are, they probably know what you are doing. Cellular systems constantly check and record the location of all phones on their networks — and this data is particularly treasured by online advertisers.

A recent survey showed that making calls is the fifth-most-popular activity for smartphones; more popular uses are Web browsing, checking social networks, playing games and listening to music. Smartphones are taking over the functions that laptops, cameras, credit cards and watches once performed for us.

If you want to avoid some surveillance, the best option is to use cash for prepaid cellphones that do not require identification. The phones transmit location information to the cell carrier and keep track of the numbers you call, but they are not connected to you by name. Destroy the phone or just drop it into a trash bin, and its data cannot be tied to you.

Also Leaving your smartphone at home will help, but then what’s the point of having it? Turning it off when you’re not using it will also help, because it will cease pinging your location to the cell company, but are you really going to do that? Shutting it down doe s not even guarantee it’s off — malware can keep it on even without your knowledge. The only way to be sure is to take out the battery. Guess what? If you have an iPhone, you will need a tiny screwdriver to remove the back cover. Doing that will void your warranty.

People could call them trackers. As It’s a neutral term, because it covers positive activities — monitoring appointments, bank balances, friends — and problematic ones, like the advertisers watching us.

We can love or hate these devices but it would make sense to call them what they are so we can fully understand what they exactly do.