Privacy-is it possible in today’s society?

Posted on May 9, 2011

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Last semester, after dropping my phone down two flights of stairs, I needed a new phone. I chose Verizon’s Ally because I had never had a smart phone before, and the iPhone seemed too confusing. I felt like the iPhone was a nice shiny mountain bike, but I really needed something with training wheels to get more used to it. When I went to pay for the phone, the woman behind the counter raved about the various apps I could get, and told me about her younger sister who had the same phone and was crazy about the Pandora app.

When I finally read the manual and googled the phone, I figured out what she meant and went a little app-crazy. I started downloading apps, first a ringtone app and then a bejeweled-type game. It wasn’t until I went to search for Pandora that I realized after scrolling down I could read what the apps had access to. Underneath where it said “allow this application to access:” it listed several points–Pandora would have access to my contact data, it would be able to add or modify calendar events and send email to guests, read my phone state and identity, and finally it would have full internet access. I honestly don’t even know what all of that means, but it doesn’t sound friendly. I became intrigued and clicked through other apps; some wanted access to hardware in order to take pictures, some wanted to prevent the phone from sleeping, and possibly creepiest of all, some wanted my gps location.

I became really freaked out, uninstalled all apps except the New York Times and a few select other, and never downloaded another app.

After reading this article in the Washington Post, I got to thinking about how I was glad I finally scrolled down and read the fine print. But what about kids who may not think anything of it?

The article profiles a 13-year-old boy who has a phone with apps that track his GPS. The boy entered his parents credit info to buy the apps. iTunes has access to his family’s email information and knows their full names, while his birthday and schooling information is listed on Facebook.

I can’t help but think that this is the new norm. While I do think parents of young teens should be teaching their children about appropriate internet privacy, parents are often oblivious to the fact that games get so much information out of their kids. What happened to playing pokemon on a gameboy color? I guess I’m dating myself…

Back to the point. While there has been legislation in the past protecting the privacy rights of children under 12, the 13-17 age group often stands alone.  Until now, maybe. Two reps in the house, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Joe Barton of Texas are constructing a bill that would potentially limit the amount of personal information that can be taken from teens.

The WashPo article also points out that teens are more likely to simply click-through user agreements without really reading or caring about the privacy info because their friends influence them. If your best friend isn’t worried, why should you be?

I think this is a huge issue. Shouldn’t there be a line drawn somewhere? I’m okay with Apple having my name and info because I buy songs from the iTunes store on a weekly basis. But for apps to know my exact GPS location? Too far.

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