Privacy on the Move: The Impacts of Mobile Technologies on Consumers and Citizens

Roger Clarke

Principal, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra

Visiting Professor, Baker & McKenzie Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre, University of N.S.W.

Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University

Extended Abstract Only

Prepared for the Information Privacy + M-Commerce Symposium, Queen's University, Kingston Ontario, 31 May 2003

It is accompanied by an outline of what the term 'mobile technologies' might mean

Version of 27 May 2003

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 2003

This document is at

Mobile commerce is an exciting development. It promises to free people from the tyranny of the permanent umbilical cord that has hitherto connected their work-and-play-station to the rest of their electronic world. Naturally 'the big end of town' (Washington DC as well as New York and Atlanta, Ottawa as well as Toronto, and Sydney as well as Canberra) is looking to use it to seduce the people who are excited by what they can do with their work-and-play-stations. Consumers think they're exerting 'pull' on e-businesses and e-government, but they're subject to a lot more 'push', and a lot more surveillance, than they bargained for.

The concept 'M-Commerce' encompasses many different devices, networks and services. Analysis of the privacy implications of M-Commerce depends on a sufficient appreciation of mobile technologies. Some have profiles akin to longstanding mass consumer communications, whereas others involve location and tracking of individuals in ways, and with an intensity, that no previous society has ever had imposed upon it.

The privacy impacts and implications depend on the technologies employed, the uses to which the technologies are put, the design features of the schemes, and the controls imposed on them.

A simple model of consumer marketing distinguishes several phases, comprising:

At each of these stages, mobile technologies enable more sophisticated services to be delivered. And of course they also compound the many previous incursions that marketer behaviour has had into consumers' privacy. The availability of information about a person's current location adds significantly to the marketer's power. Yet more powerful is tracking information, because it can enable mapping of each consumer's 'commute-vector', and the shopping zones that they frequent. The scope for manipulation of consumer behaviour explodes.

Beyond marketing, location and tracking technologies can be applied to social control purposes, by both governments and corporations. The impacts of location and tracking information to the large number of data-trails need to be set against the backdrop of the incursions made by dataveillance technologies during the last 20-30 years. See Clarke (1988, 2001, and 2003).

A combination of legal and technological measures is needed to address these ravages. But parliaments around the world have abdicated their responsibilities to protect human rights. They are using the spurious notion of 'technologically neutral' legislation as one excuse for inaction. Worse, they are adopting the pretence that 'self-regulation' actually means something. Worst of all, they have succumbed to deeply authoritarian responses to the threat of terrorism.

Consumers must recognise that they are quarry, and that marketing companies are the hunters. An, in the current anti-human rights context, the citizen has no option but to regard their own nation-state as one of their enemies. Defenders of consumer and citizen rights can turn civil action and civil disobedience to some effect. But they have no option but to apply technology as a weapon. Two broad categories of tool are usefully distinguished: those that I call 'savage PETs', which seek outright anonymity; and what I call 'gentle PETs', which set out to engineer the more qualified concept of pseudonymity. See Clarke (2001).


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Created: 15 May 2003

Last Amended: 27 May 2003

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