Friday, May 6, 2011

Lying about Your "Secret" Trysts? Your Cell Phone Can Expose You!

"Apple Inc.'s iPhone is collecting and storing location information even when location services are turned off."
From an article in the April 25, 2011 Wall Street Journal

I'm not exactly a cutting-edge technology guy, but I've always been fascinated by the interrelationship between technology and extramarital affairs. E-mails, cell phones, instant messaging and texts all make it easier to carry on an affair, but they also make it easier for affairs to be exposed. Just about everything a person does on his computer or cell phone is stored away somewhere, waiting to be uncoded and---perhaps---used as evidence against him in a divorce case.

Even things we don't usually think of as personal electronic devices can expose us. A while back, I wrote about the use of "EZ Pass" data in divorce cases to establish that a person had been somewhere other than where he claimed to be. EZ Passes are used in states that have toll roads or toll bridges, as a way of allowing drivers to pre-pay the toll rather than wait in line at the toll booth. A scanner reads the EZ Pass as you drive by, and you probably never think about what happens to the information that's collected---notably, the date and time you pass each toll plaza.

Well, what happens is that it's stored at some remote location, possibly for years to come. And it's "discoverable" in court cases: a lawyer can serve a subpoena on the state transportation agency to produce the data related to a particular car. In a number of divorce cases, the data have proved that someone was lying about his whereabouts. He was, let's say, claiming to be working late at his office in Manhattan, but in reality had used his EZ Pass to cross the Triboro Bridge to see his girlfriend in Queens.

More recently, it turns out that both Apple's iPhones and Google's Android phones are continuously transmitting location information back to Apple and Google. Both companies say that users can disable the "location service" on their phone, but an independent test conducted by the Wall Street Journal showed that location data were still being collected and transmitted, even after the service had supposedly been disabled.

I'm not aware of any divorce cases in which cell phone location data have been subpoenaed, but I guarantee you it will happen, just as it has with EZ Passes. And it will reveal a lot more than EZ Passes do. It will reveal precisely where you were, when you were there, and how long you stayed there. If you happen to have taken your cell phone with you to a two-hour tryst at a cut-rate hotel during office hours, you may have some explaining to do.