Digital Thoughts: Smartphones, Habits & Tracking

Our focus is being manipulated. It is not surprising but rather expected.

Everyone has their eyes glued to a touchscreen. There is hope and promise in those 5 inches and access to a world way better than the one around us.

It is sad and disconcerting, but it is a true representation of the current state of society. This is evidenced by merely observing someone coming back into the real world as their digital device has just run out of battery.

There is fear, terror and thoughts of being exposed and vulnerable to the world, as they no longer have access to the power that makes up who they are and what they are capable of.

This reminds me of being like Lion-O from Thundercats without the Sword of Omens.

It is being said and have thought so myself for some time that our smartphone is an extension of ourselves, but I am more tempted to believe that we are becoming an extension of these devices.

We have incapacitated our brains to the point that self-reliance and connection with other human beings that don’t have a twitter handle feel unnatural.

The moment someone says, “I’m not on Facebook”, silence ensues along with thoughts of “what is wrong with them?”.

We upgrade ourselves every 12 months in the form of CPU, graphics, Megapixels and touch features. It feels so real and we conceive it to be part of our human capacity.

This isn’t real though. In a sense, we are developing backwards, adopting the self-reliance of a fetus.

We don’t know how things work anymore and how they are made. We are only interested in doing more with less involvement. Whether that additional power is destined for meaningful and productive endeavours is not a constant in this equation.

The average user that carries a $600 smartphone won’t even use 10% of the device’s features and capabilities for those 12–18 months before moving on the better and faster model.

It is scary that we are willing to sacrifice our self-reliance for something that ceases to exist when the lithium dries out.

TV Shows like “The Walking Dead”, raise some valid points, once you get past the gory stuff.

People haven’t developed their survival skills.

No wonder why the CDC has created contingency plans for a zombie apocalypse type scenario.

It is a question of status and being able to express our pride in taking 20MP photos, when in reality we cannot physically perceive more than 2MP and so that we can post personal information on Facebook to willingly be profiled in the databases of the world.

Connection

An element of connection with others is achieved through the online world and also readily access to information. It is unfathomable though how we have been conditioned into exchanging time for money, to be able to afford a smartphone so that our data submissions are of higher quality and we are more easily identified and classified into the databases of the world for others to use as they see fit.

If I told you that I would gift you a house but all you had to do is to allow anyone to come in and also provide a status update of what you are doing at any given point during the day and also post photos.

Would you do it?

When signing up for FREE social media services, you are being handed a piece of online real estate where you can dwell in a digital form, but in exchange you are required and enticed to share your life. I am not against social media, but more against their use and intended purpose. Not all social media platforms are created equal and this is all down to T&Cs. This is the 12 page agreements that nobody reads.

F-Secure did an experiment with O2 in the UK just to prove this point. They were giving Free Wi-Fi outside Parliament in London and all you had to do was to agree to the Terms and Conditions. One of the terms was that you had to give them your first born child. Nobody read that, but they happily agreed to it.

Why Use Social Media?

It is cool after all.

People recognise you and praise you.

The Like button.

Who was the last person in real life that told you, I Like You?

On Facebook, it is a push of a button. Instant gratification, knowning someone, somewhere likes you for being you or at least the version of you that resides on Facebook.

The psychological needs that are satisfied through such mediums are well thought out and form the basis of such services.

Instant pleasure is the product.

Tracking

What is the true cost of these free services?

When you download Facebook or Twitter and start posting information, everything is geo-tagged. You location is being embedded into every message you post online and your photos give out even more details.

This is useful information for marketers but also for hackers. Even when you are not doing anything you smartphone is being constantly interrogated.

Marketers can use this to send to you push notifications based on when you are more likely to make a purchase or based on your current location or preferences.

Hackers on the other hand, can use FREE tools to map your daily whereabouts and exacts timings, such as when you leave home, get to work and your daily patterns. This is based on the timestamp and location that is publicly available from your tweets, retweets and shares that is done habitually and even more so as part of daily rituals before you even get out of bed.

There are currently 2 projects that map twitter location, GeoSocial Footprint and Teaching Privacy.

Just for illustration purposes, we are going to look at Steve Wozniak.

Geo Footprint — Steve Wozniak

The search on the GeoSocial Footprint adds another layer of information. Possible locations.

It is very easy to map out home, work and school locations.

If you have an iPhone drill down to:

Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Frequent Locations > History.

You will find out exactly where you have been and the exact duration. It is an eye opener.

Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Frequent Locations > History

Freedome VPN

To that effect, I recently started using Freedome VPN from F-Secure on my iDevices. My iPhone alone had over 600 blocked tracking attempts in a very short amount of time.

Our smartphone ends up knowing us better than we know ourselves.

Marketing

Having developed iOS apps in the past 3 years, I have been on the other side of the spectrum myself.

I have been able to see what big companies see and that is a lot of unseemingly random information. With the use of algorithms and big data manipulation though, you can learn who is using your app, what is their financial status and many more details.

Especially on Facebook, which could well be a country on its own, you can create advertising campaigns targeting exactly the people you want.

More interestingly you can target the people that have previously spend money buying stuff advertised on Facebook and spend a certain amount.

Facebook Ads

This is powerful for marketing, but it just goes to show that everything you do online does not go unrecorded.

Taking responsibility for our digital footprint and cutting down on time spent on using our smartphone is necessary and good for us.

Talk to other people.

Meditate.

Breath.

You will be just fine.