Don’t believe the hype. Your government, more than likely, isn’t tracking you. That said, your phone carrier is. Mobile privacy is almost non-existent. Telecommunications providers, naturally, know when we place a call, the number we dial, and how long the conversation lasts. It’s how they bill us, and it’s not impossible for this information to be misused or abused. Since most of us now use mobile phones to place those calls, phone companies also know our locations. Text messages, to some degree, can be logged as well. If this reality makes you uncomfortable, here are five changes you can make to reduce how much your phone carrier knows about you.
1. Use a VoIP network
If you don’t like that your mobile provider sees who you’re calling and when, you can get around this by using VoIP clients instead. The number of options have exploded over the years. Skype may be owned by Microsoft, but the peer-to-peer nature of its infrastructure means it is still a relatively secure means of communicating. There are also popular alternatives like Tango and Fring, which both allow users to communicate between mobile phones and computers using custom screen names. Most of these apps allow users to place free calls between two people using the same app, and some also allow you to place calls to phone numbers directly. Speaking of which…
2. Get an online phone number
Google Voice, Skype, and Vonage give you the ability to create a phone number online. If you’re going to distribute a number over the Internet or communicate with people you don’t wish to know where you live, creating a phone number with Google Voice, for example, is a good way to keep your identity safe. The number provided will have a different area code from your home number. Even if you don’t trust Google or another VoIP provider with your data, authorities still have to jump through more hoops to get data from them than from mobile phone companies.
3. Send Instant Messages Instead Of Text Messages
Instant messaging began as something you did from your computer while texting took place on phones. For many people, that situation has long passed. Until Google recently released Hangouts, the apps used to send instant messages and text messages on an Android device were largely identical. Now the biggest difference between the two is that one requires people to use the same service, and the other merely requires that both have phone numbers. But if your friends and family members predominantly use Android, you can all now communicate freely using Hangouts. iOS users have iMessage, and there are many services out there that support both platforms, such as WhatsApp. Pick a service by a company you trust the most, and cut off your mobile company from knowing who you send messages to using your phone.
4. Send Encrypted Messages
Regardless of which service you rely on, it’s possible for messages to get intercepted. If you want your communication to remain private even under those circumstances, you’ll have to encrypt the messages you opt to send. There are a handful of options available, such as Text Fortress for iOS and TextSecure for Android.
5. Use a Private Social Network For Relationships
Maybe you don’t care about your general correspondence, but you want your conversations with your significant other to remain between the two of you. There are no shortage of apps out there that serve as private social networks between two people, permitting both to send messages, pictures, and events that only the other can see. Many options are multi-platform, such as Avocado, Between, and Couple.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop companies from tracking your location on a mobile phone. Even if you disable the built-in GPS, your phone still communicates with nearby cell towers in order to achieve the best signal. If a mobile phone is on, then it can be tracked.
Adopting various Internet services doesn’t make you invisible, It just prevents one company from tracking all of your communications. The internet is a rapidly changing frontier, and there’s no silver bullet that will make your activities completely anonymous. Giving away information to a third-party is inherent in using any online service. The solution is to carefully choose which companies to trust and be responsible about what you say and where. You can make your communications more secure by choosing not to keep all of your eggs in one basket, and you may even reduce your bill in the process.