Cellphone Companies Are Working to Track Your Every Move

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Your cellphone company knows what you did today—whether you want them to or not:

Verizon and AT&T have been quietly tracking the Internet activity of more than 100 million cellular customers with what critics have dubbed “supercookies”…. Consumers cannot erase these supercookies or evade them by using browser settings, such as the “private” or “incognito” modes that are popular among users wary of corporate or government surveillance.

….Privacy advocates say that without legal action, in court or by a regulatory agency such as the FCC or FTC, the shift toward supercookies will be impossible to stop. Only encryption can keep a supercookie from tracking a user. Other new tracking technologies are probably coming soon, advocates say.

“There’s a stampede by the cable companies and wireless carriers to expand data collection,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based advocacy group. “They all want to outdo Google.”

Is there any hope for reining in this stuff? I’m pessimistic. The vast majority of users just don’t seem to care, and even if they do, they can usually be bought off with something as trivial as an iTunes download or a $10 Groupon discount. On the flip side, the value of this data to marketers is enormous, which means it can be stopped only by some equally enormous opposing force. But what? Government regulation is the only counterweight of similar power, and there won’t be any government action as long as the public remains indifferent about having their every movement tracked.

So this gets back to basics: How do you get the public to care? Business as usual won’t do it. It’s going to take something big and dramatic that finally crosses a line and starts to make people feel nervous. That hasn’t happened yet, but it might in the future. Stay tuned.

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"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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