Big Google is watching you

As people do more and more on their phones, mobile companies are watching every move. It's all about big data – and you can forget privacy.

While travelling overseas at Christmas we naturally turned off mobile data on our phones to avoid being ripped off by the phone companies’ rapacious data roaming charges.

Instead, everywhere I went I asked for the Wi-Fi password and sometimes didn’t even need one. No problem, although using Google maps to get around in the street was impossible.

In fact with all three phone networks in Australia whacking up their data prices, I’m thinking of turning off mobile data at home as well. There’s more and more public Wi-Fi around and although the domestic charges are a fraction of the staggering 1.5 cents per kilobyte you typically pay overseas, they’re getting greedy here as well – cutting the data available on mobile plans by up to 40 per cent just last November.

And the other thing is that every time I connected to Wi-Fi, Google wanted to know where I was and what I was doing. At home this week I’m aware of Google, and others, watching every move I make.

As the New Year gets underway it’s clear that the big trend in 2013 and beyond is going to be all about data, in two important ways: consumers using more and more of it as they do more on their phones while fleeing the phone companies’ predatory mobile data plans and using Wi-Fi instead, and companies collecting and using masses of data about what we’re doing.

Google and Samsung are beginning to dominate the mobile device market. Android already has 70 per cent of the market in the US.

Meanwhile phones are getting bigger and tablets are getting smaller; the big trend is towards 'phablets' – one device in your pocket that’s big enough to read on and small enough to hold to your ear.

The result, quite soon, is going to be that people will be consuming mobile data all the time: reading, watching videos, using maps, streaming music.

Geolocalisation and search data are being sent back to Google HQ at Mountain View, and Apple HQ at Cupertino, in real time. For business generally, 'big data' is the new big thing.

Google, Facebook, Apple, IBM and a host of non-tech firms are collecting data by the exabyte (a billion gigabytes) about what everyone is doing at all times and will use it to plan and manage everything from advertising and media consumption to transport infrastructure and telecommunications.

What’s more, there are increasing numbers of closed circuit TV cameras in public places around the world. Britain has about 1.9 million of them. Google’s facial recognition algorithms can already distinguish a man from a woman; soon they will be able to pick up age and ethnicity. Shopping data will soon be added to this, along with media consumption data.

Privacy? Forget it. As Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems famously said way back in 1999: "You have zero privacy. Get over it.”

As for mobile data versus Wi-Fi, Queensland Rail has just rolled out free Wi-Fi on Brisbane trains. It shouldn’t be too long before it’s available on most public transport, including planes.

Most cafes and restaurants have W-Fi now and of course it’s just about universal in homes and offices. The only time you’ll need to use mobile networks for data is when you're walking or in a car – and even then you have to be careful about bumping into things.

So let’s all turn off mobile data and use Wi-Fi instead. Maybe then the phone companies will bring down their ridiculous data charges.

And by the way, this trend towards Wi-Fi and away from mobile data is going to be a boon for the NBN.

Follow @AlanKohler on Twitter

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