Wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, I walked into an AT&T store and immediately noticed several black half-globes suspended from the ceiling: surveillance cameras. I needed to keep my head down. When I tried to pay for my new phone, the cashier swiped its bar code, looked up at me with her fingers poised above her keyboard, and asked me for identification. “I don’t have any on me,” I lied.
She seemed mildly annoyed and asked for my name and address.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I don’t really want my information in the system.”
“We need your information.”
“For billing purposes.”
“But it’s a prepaid card. You don’t need to bill me.”
This, apparently, was irrelevant. “We need to put your information into the system,” she said again. “Otherwise you can’t buy the phone.”
I didn’t buy the phone. Instead I walked across the street to a generic cellphone store where a young clerk with pink hair and black-framed glasses was sitting behind the cash register, text messaging. “So do you want me to, like, just put in some random name?” she asked. Before I knew it, she’d christened me Mike Smith, born October 18, 2007 (6). As she charged minutes to my phone, I overheard a young man next to me tell a different clerk that he wanted to activate a cellphone that was registered under his mother’s name. “That’s no problem at all,” said the clerk. “We just need her Social Security number.” Unfazed, the man called his mom. He was dictating the number to the clerk as Mike Smith walked out the door.
5. These services are voluntary, but they vividly illustrate the privacy-killing potential of cellphone GPS. Back to text
6. She’d asked for my birth date to use as an activation code, but it turned out she really just needed any eight-digit series of numbers. Back to textsingle page