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More on Technology and Your Privacy


By Charles Miller

Last week I noted that privacy and the individual’s right to it is a hotly debated issue. I briefly summarized how under US law in 1928 the Supreme Court ruled that nothing said on a telephone could be private. In 1967, that court reversed itself, declaring that citizens should have a right to at least some privacy when speaking on the phone. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, lawmakers in many countries have to confront the fact that existing laws do not always scale up enough to account for innovations in technology.

This week I want to touch on some of these concerns, now that all of us are completely surrounded by sophisticated electronics.

My family members had been discussing a wide range of topics, covering politics, travel, health, and entertainment. Someone asked, “Do you remember that Gene Hackman movie about the navy pilot? I don’t remember the name but it was about an airman who escaped after his plane was shot down.” The moment my brother glanced down at the smartphone sitting on the table in front of him, he blanched when he noticed it displaying an advertisement offering to rent a video of the 2001 movie Behind Enemy Lines, starring Gene Hackman.

Obviously, his smartphone had been listening to us, allowing our conversation to be analyzed and that information to be sold to advertisers. Sensing an opening to sell a video rental, one of them then pushed out an ad to my brother’s device. I pointed out that technically a cell phone was capable of listening 24/7 to every word. I could tell that everyone sitting there was thinking about the phone in his pocket, or about what it could have heard them say.

In many jurisdictions, it is a serious crime to wiretap or to capture the communications of others without court approval, unless just one of the parties has given prior consent. Advertisers are taking full advantage of smartphones’ ability to listen in on our conversations, and if anyone in the room ever clicked on that [I agree] button when installing an app, then they gave the legally required prior consent for everyone to be recorded.

Lawmakers in countries around the world have not kept pace with innovations in technology, nor set limits on what personal information advertisers may collect and use. When you click on that [I Agree] button, you could be giving away permission for an app to listen to what you say, read all your email and texts, copy all the names and numbers in your address book, and even use the GPS in your phone to track your every step.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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