Privacy concerns mount as reports of cellphone tracking increase

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Concerns over cellphone users’ privacy is growing amid new reports that Apple Inc., Google Inc. and Deutsche Telekom can track and save data on users’ whereabouts without notifying customers. New research by security analyst Samy Kamkar indicates an HTC Android phone collected location data every few seconds and transmitted the information along with a unique phone identifier to Google several times an hour, the Wall Street Journal reported. Some smartphone apps also have been collecting location and user data and might share the information with third-party providers, the Journal reported.

The Journal report followed news that Apple’s iPods and iPads contain an embedded file that also can track users’ location. While the extent of the data collection is still being determined, the capabilities of the tracking technology are becoming more clear. During a six-month period ending in February 2010, cellphone provider Deutsche Telekom recorded 35,000 data points pertaining to German Green party politician Malte Spitz’s whereabouts, the New York Times reported last month. Spitz went to court to obtain the information, which the cellphone company had not disclosed to him.

“We are all walking around with little tags, and our tag has a phone number associated with it, who we called and what we do with the phone,” Sarah E. Williams of Columbia University told the New York Times. “We don’t even know we are giving up that data.”

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