Does Mobile Marketing Infringe on Our Privacy?

Naturally, privacy watchdogs answer the question in this post title with a resounding “Yes!” The answer is so emphatic, in fact, that the Center for Digital Democracy and U.S. Public Interest Research Group are filing a complaint with the FTC alleging that mobile marketers collect so much “non personally identifiable information” that it infringes on users’ privacy—and are “unfair and deceptive.”
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Mobile devices, which know our location and other intimate details of our lives, are being turned into portable behavioral tracking and targeting tools that consumers unwittingly take with them wherever they go.

(Shh! Don’t tell them the FBI can remotely turn on the microphone of several cell phone brands and convert your phone into a roving “bug” even when it’s off!)
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But is the Internet really private? Should it be?

Is a profile that states that you are interested in outdoor recreation and currently in the Santa Clara, CA, area an invasion of your privacy? And if so, should we ban all outdoor rec stores and centers in Santa Clara from collecting personally identifiable information like, say, a picture of you when you walk in their lobby?

Should we prohibit all employees from asking your name and if you slip and mention it, make sure they never call you by it?

Naturally, there’s a limit to how much information a mobile phone can give marketers (without some sort of lead generation input or opt-in).

As with PC-based behavioral targeting, mobile marketing companies do not typically collect names, phone numbers, email addresses or other so-called personally identifiable information.

But advocates say the information gathered is so detailed that it poses a threat to privacy.

“They don’t need to know a name to know that Mobile User ‘X’ likes to search for fast food, bought a new car recently, and went on the mobile phone looking for a lower-interest credit card,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

The complaint says that they want the FTC to look into behavioral and geographic targeting in mobile marketing, and require mobile marketers to use opt-ins and to disclose to users how their information is going to be used.
Presently, text-message (SMS) marketing is opt-in, but other forms of mobile marketing, such as search and display, aren’t.

Ultimately, however, it seems that privacy advocates are hoping for a world where we can be “safely anonymous” online, whether we access the Internet from our computers or our phones. But remember, in this world, advertising is no more targeted or helpful than it is on, say, television.

What do you think—is mobile behavioral and geo-targeting an invasion of your privacy?

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