Former Intelligence Community officer and whistleblower Edward Snowden explained to Joe Rogan the intricate – yet blatant – tactics used by cell phones to spy on their users.
Smartphones can be found on nearly every person you come across, and every device communicates with cell phone towers, apps, services and more in order for “bulk collection” to harvest as much data as it can.
Snowden explained how the lucrative business of data collection has made it a norm for users’ personal life stories to be recorded and managed by companies in order to influence or track smart device owners.
Every phone is constantly connected
“Every smartphone, every phone at all, is constantly connected to the nearest cellular tower,” he says. “Every phone, even when the screen is off… is screaming in the air saying, ‘Here I am, Here I am.’”
When a phone transmits their “scream” to a tower, the tower then records your device’s IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) and IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) that “are two globally unique identifiers that only exist anywhere in the world in one place.”
Since we take phones to work, school, a friend's house, etc., these locations are collected to essentially map out one's life and "it doesn't matter if you're doing anything wrong or you're the most ordinary person... because that's how mass surveillance works."
“The movements of your phone are the movements of you as a person,” Snowden said.
(Timestamp at 1:43 for mobile users)
Data stored is money earned
One might ask themselves why it’s even important to record this data. According to Snowden, it’s not.
But companies still collect all the information from people in case it becomes useful later on – for example to find out which products someone is more likely to buy, or sell the data to a “partner” for their own purposes.
For the most part, people aren’t aware how much information is being shared among other entities until a user gets an email from an unfamiliar company saying their data was compromised.
The problem intensifies by magnitudes when considering all the apps people have on their phones that “communicate” with each other, but users aren’t aware of it.
“There is an industry that is built on keeping (connections that a device makes without the user’s knowledge) invisible,” Snowden said. “What we need to do is make the activities of our devices more visible and understandable to the average person, and then give them control over it.”
This is possible because the complicated Terms of Service people agree on to send memes to a friend over an app can also make it so that the extra data collected from the user doesn’t belong to them as soon as it's gathered.
“(Companies) have built a legal paradigm that presumes records collected about us do not belong to us…” he explains. “The scandal isn’t how they’re breaking a law. The scandal is that they don’t have to break a law.”
While it’s bizarre to imagine all of these connections being made by simple devices and apps, it all derives from how cell phones are used to spy on their users, according to Snowden.
“These records are about you, it’s not data that’s being exploited, it’s people that are being exploited,” he said. “It’s not data that’s being manipulated, it’s you that’s being manipulated."