Normally, I am not too worried about whether my GPS tracking
is turned on when I am using my smartphone.
In fact, until I read two articles last week, it was hard to
remember when the last time was that I even checked.
But the New York Times online carried some interesting
facts that readers may want to store away for future
Angry Birds, the top-selling paid mobile app for iPhone in
the United States and Europe, has been downloaded more than a
billion times by players around the world who often spend
hours slinging squawking fowl at groups of egg-stealing pigs.
While regular players are familiar with the particular
destructive qualities of certain of those birds, many are
seemingly unaware of one fact: the game possesses a ravenous
ability to collect personal information on its users.
When Jason Hong, an associate professor at the Human-Computer
Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, surveyed
40 users, all but two were unaware the game was storing their
locations so they could later be the targets of ads.
What is going on, according to experts, is that applications
such as Angry Birds and even more innocuous-seeming software,
such as that which turns your phone into a flashlight,
defines words or delivers Bible quotes, are also collecting
personal information - usually the user's location and gender
and the unique identification number of a smartphone. But in
some cases, they cull the information from contact lists and
pictures from photo libraries.
As the internet goes mobile, privacy issues surrounding phone
apps have moved to the front lines of the debate over what
information can be collected, when and by whom.
Next year, more people around the world will gain access to
the internet through mobile phones or tablet computers than
from desktop PCs, according to Gartner, the research group.
The shift has brought consumers into a grey legal area where
existing privacy protections have failed to keep up with
Last week, on the business and money pages of the Otago
Daily Times, Dunedin lawyer Sally Peart warned that New
Zealand's Privacy Act had not kept up with technological
Breaches of privacy from ACC, Work and Income and Inland
Revenue had been in the headlines.
But if you think you can rest easy at home when you are not
on your mobile phone, think again.
Eric Horvitz, who joined Microsoft Research 20 years ago with
a PhD in computer science, is about to get his long-awaited
payoff - the advanced computing technologies he has spent
decades working on are being incorporated into numerous
Next year's version of the Excel spreadsheet program, part of
the Office suite of software, will be able to comb very large
amounts of data. For example, it could scan 12 million
Twitter posts and create charts to show which Oscar nominee
was getting the most buzz.
A new version of Outlook, the email program, is being tested
that employs Dr Horvitz's machine-learning specialty to
review users' email habits. It could be able to suggest
whether a user wants to read each message that comes in.
Elsewhere, Microsoft's machine-learning software will trawl
internal corporate computer systems.
Welcome, readers, to the new version of privacy.