Big Brother Sent Me a Travel Report
By Todd Strandberg
A couple weeks ago I received an email from my email provider with the subject title of “Todd, your November update.” The email contained details of where I had visited based on trackings from my smart phone. The map page contains an amazing amount of information for a device that I normally only use for trips, the doctor’s office, and when I go out to eat.
Last month Terry, our Friend Mike Hile, and myself went to Dallas to do interviews for Terry’s latest with David Reagan’s Lamb and Lion Ministry. The map had recorded nearly every major location we stopped at on the trip. We had lunch at Applebee’s in Sulfur Springs, TX; we had dinner at IHOP in McKinney, TX, and on the way back we stopped at Red Lobster in Texarkana.
Millions of Americans are walking around with phones that have, unknowingly, created one of the most disturbing and unintentional “surveillance states” to ever exist. If people go to Home Depot and soon get coupons in the mail for lawn care products, most people would probably think it’s from their credit card company selling their data. A smart phone can tell that you walked around the riding lawn mower area for several minutes, so John Deere would love to send you a booklet that could help close the deal. I remember in the early days of internet maps, Google earth had Papa John’s pizza on the wrong side of the highway where a bank was located. Today, most major businesses are precisely located on the map.
Despite the ongoing claims by companies that people’s data is “anonymous,” it is very easy to link people via the email or name used on your smart phone. You can’t be anonymous if they can track you right to where you live.
Paul Ohm, a law professor and privacy researcher at the Georgetown University Law Center, said that describing location data as anonymous is “a completely false claim that has been debunked in multiple studies.”
Companies like Verizon and AT&T have been selling the data for years. Last year, Vice found that data being sold was used by bounty hunters to find specific cell phones in real time. Telecom companies pledged, after the scandal, to stop selling the data. But there is still no law that prevents it. Because most people are not fugitives from the law, they don’t seem to mind that dozens of companies can track you down.
It’s not just the big companies that are tracking your movement. Any app that provides a free service is collecting data. The Weather Channel sold foot traffic to hedge funds that allowed them to profit from Chipotle’s 2016 E. coli crisis. The data predicted that sales would drop by 30 percent in the coming months. Chipotle’s same-store sales ultimately fell 29.7 percent, and firms like Foursquare made millions selling short the company’s stock.
I could think of dozens of situations where the distribution of this information could result in embarrassment or inconvenience. Someone who has a stalker or is going through a bad divorce could be at substantial high risks.
Even in cases where no major harm results, the ability to track people can be very creepy:
One tracking company observed a change in the regular movements of a Microsoft engineer. He made a visit one Tuesday afternoon to the main Seattle campus of a Microsoft competitor, Amazon. The following month, he started a new job at Amazon. It took minutes to identify him as Ben Broili, a manager now for Amazon Prime Air, a drone delivery service.
Broili commented: “I can’t say I’m surprised. But knowing that you all can get ahold of it and comb through and place me to see where I work and live — that’s weird.”
The main thing that is keeping us safe from this type of technology is the Big Brother stigma. If Microsoft had called Broili into the office and asked what was he doing at Amazon, there would be a storm of protest against this level of monitoring. Since we are at the point where people can lose their job for saying they vote Republican, we’re not far from the point where companies are thinking you work for them 24/7.
My biggest fear is how this technology will relate to end-time events. When the world suddenly becomes hostile to anyone who is associated with Bible prophecy, tribulation saints will need to pitch their smart phones. The Antichrist won’t come to power until the halfway point, but he’ll then have 3 1/2 years of data history to red-flag people for internment.
“And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” (Revelation 13:7).