What your smartphone tells the world about you


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Smartphones rule our lives. Having information at our fingertips is the height of convenience.

They tell us all sorts of things, but the information we see and receive on our smartphones is just a fraction of the data they generate.

By tracking and monitoring our behaviour and activities, smartphones build a digital profile of shockingly intimate information about our personal lives.

These records aren’t just a log of our activities. The digital profiles they create are traded between companies and used to make inferences and decisions that affect the opportunities open to us and our lives.

What’s more, this typically happens without our knowledge, consent or control.

New and sophisticated methods built into smartphones make it easy to track and monitor our behaviour.

A vast amount of information can be collected from our smartphones, both when being actively used and while running in the background.

This information can include our location, internet search history, communications, social media activity, finances and biometric data such as fingerprints or facial features.

It can also include metadata – information about the data – such as the time and recipient of a text message.

Each type of data can reveal something about our interests and preferences, views, hobbies and social interactions.

For example, a study conducted by MIT demonstrated how email metadata can be used to map our lives, showing the changing dynamics of our professional and personal networks.

This data can be used to infer personal information including a person’s background, religion or beliefs, political views, sexual orientation and gender identity, social connections, or health.

For example, it is possible to deduce our specific health conditions simply by connecting the dots between a series of phone calls.

Different types of data can be consolidated and linked to build a comprehensive profile of us.

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The Insider

The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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