It seems that mobile phone networks and wireless hotspot operators in the UK are harvesting data from their customers and passing it on to third parties without their knowledge or consent. With many consumers unwittingly opting into service user agreements which allow for permanent location tracking, the highly sensitive data that is thus generated can reveal much more than just geographical location. The level of detail is so great that gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and many more identifiable characteristics are gleaned from the data. This information is often sold for profit and is vulnerable to malicious data theft.
This kind of big data can be used to not only identify individuals but, once triangulated with other readily available data sets, also project future movements and decisions – a little like Minority Report sans Tom Cruise. While mobile phone providers have said that all data collected is anonymised before being passed on, industry experts have challenged the efficacy of this process and its security, suggesting that providers should be fairer and more transparent with their customers. The recent Data Protection Regulations from the European Union will soon give users the right to demand that their location data is deleted so this could likely sway the balance in the customer’s favour.