There’s an old snarky saying among privacy advocates: “If you aren’t paying for something, you are the product!” This updated version of “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” arose in the Internet age among the ever-growing list of free services and apps on the Internet funded by collecting and selling your data to advertisers. If large companies like Google and Facebook are any indication, a lot of money can be made with user data and the more data you collect, the more money you can make.
The more data = more money formula has meant that privacy on the Internet is hard to come by. There’s just too much money to be made and too little regulation and in some cases too little public will to prevent it. Many people justify the invasion of their privacy with the fact that they are at least getting something for free in return. Indeed many free phone apps or services that show ads to users also offer a paid version that removes ads (although that doesn’t necessarily mean the data collection stops).
You Are Always The Product
As bad as trading your privacy in exchange for an app or service might be, there’s at least some logic and precedent to it. Yet there’s a growing trend among businesses who have realized the gold mine of data they have from their paying customers . They see all the money they are leaving on the table and few so far have been able to resist the urge to copy the business model of Big Data companies. Now that everyone is data mining, we can shorten that snarky saying to just: “You are always the product.”
It’s unclear and it’s also unclear how much they rely on any pre-installed T-Mobile apps on T-Mobile-branded phones for this sort of thing, and how much they use traffic analysis. I suspect the answers are in the spec for that universal identifier they are working with ATT and Verizon on. The fact that they seem to want (need?) websites to implement the spec makes me wonder whether they rely more heavily on traffic analysis, yet given how much HTTPS is used by default these days, one would think they wouldn’t get much beyond the domain the user is visiting from the TLS traffic.
All of the MVNOs I’ve ever used allowed and worked fine with unlocked devices that I already owned, so there were no carrier-installed apps. Many MVNOs do sell phones to their customers, though, and I’m not sure if those have carrier apps installed or not. (I suspect: not.)
Of course, Firefox (including on the L5) makes it easy to set your own DNS look-up provider, so that should keep the carrier out of your business on mobile. (In addition to the HTTPS aspect you mentioned.)
And there’s also VPN. Still looking for a generic client on the L5.
I am glad you wrote this article. I would like to extend the topic a bit, because what is cited abhove, in my opinion, is only half of the truth and I haven’t seen anybody writing about it. Of course I may simply didn’t get it into my hands.
I am talking about that we pay indirectly for advertisement. I do not mean paying with personal data. I mean paying real money like dollars, euros or whatever your local currency is.
When we buy a product we pay a price. Included in that price are costs for materials, wages of employees, percentages of taxes, insurances etc. a win margin and some percentage for advertising the product.
This money goes from the vendor to some advertising company e.g. Google. So we pay money for bothering us permanently. For running this whole infrastructure of doom. Google & Co do not live from our data. They live from money like everybody else. To me it looks like the spirit of silicon valley is less “let’s make the world a better place” but “let’s get rich as f***”. Don’t be evil my a**.
So how do we get out of this unfortunate cycle? Let’s dream for a second. Companies stop advertising. Sales numbers follow. ^^
Maybe that can be worked around by substitute the advertising industry by a branch of quality testers. Actually there are already more or less neutral qualify testers like Stiftung Warentest in Germany. You can buy their magazine with product tests.
So the percentage you spent paying advertisers indirectly, now goes to the quality testers. Now people can have neutral information on products instead of marketing lies. And people don’t get bothered by advertisement. And as now quality counts vendors have bigger incentives to raise quality.
I know it would be a huge change in the capitalistic system and it would be naive to believe that this will change soon - if ever. Though I think this had to said.