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Monday, June 20, 2011

Are Prepaid Cell Phone Onwers Actually Anonymous?

During the past decade the world anonymity has became extremely popular. Several years ago people were unaware that they should reveal only the information they really have to in order to protect their identities. However, while the modern technology have developed significantly, a lot of new issues to remember have appeared. Most of the privacy concerning things are associated with the Internet and ever growing social networking pages where people are very eager to share their personal information with strangers. However, more and more people decide to cut down on the amount of shared data. Once they notice that they can do something to improve their so called anonymity in the internet, they will also try to look further to find other means to achieve this.

I know quite a lot of people who use no contract sim cards, because they think that thanks to this, nobody will be able to learn their name, address or any other personal information, just by using their phone number. They believe that if there's no personal information associated with the number in the carrier's database, nobody will be able to find it using for example a cell phone lookup. Unfortunately, they're not right, buying a prepaid cell phone will not make you any more anonymous if you decide to use the phone number just like any other. This means that you will be for example shopping online using your personal information and the prepaid cell phone number or you will take part in some online sweep-stake where you have to provide your cell phone number. If you use the number in this way, you can be sure that your data will be collected and aggregated into a cell phone directory with all your personal information in it.

However, there is a easy way to prevent such situation - you just have to read the terms of service before you enter your personal details. If you notice that you agree to resell your data, you shouldn't agree, since you can be sure that after some time the information you entered will be bought by some cell phone directory and everybody who pay a few bucks will be able to find your name and address just knowing your cell phone number which was meant to be totally anonymous.

Although this is very boring and takes a lot of time to even skim read the terms and conditions as well as privacy policy, you should always sacrifice your time to do this in order to know what exactly is going on. Don't forget that it's the same contract as if it was printed and signed.


madison said...

Gangsters in movies use such cell phones, so I have always thought that it's impossible to trace them... Stupid me :/

Anonymous said...

I doubt gangsters in movies use their prepaid phones to enter sweepstakes or make online purchases using their name and address!

If you buy a phone and minutes with cash, and only use it to make calls, it won't end up in a database.

Anonymous said...

You are correct in that using a prepaid cell phone will not protect your anonymity if you enter personal information into a website form which than shares your information.

However I don't think this scenario proves that your setup is not anonymous. In fact it was, until you choose to breach that anonymity.

I consider it similar to a bank robber robbing a bank wearing a ski mask to conceal his identity, than going up to the bank manager shaking his hand and introducing himself by his full legal name. Can't blame that on the ski mask, it did its job just fine.

Also, consider this scenario:
- Use a prepaid cellphone which is not linked to your name as your primary phone (or Internet connection)
- If you delude yourself into thinking its worth it to enter an online sweepstakes, or are forced to provide a real phone number by a service you can't live without, use a cheap prepaid "throwaway" phone or a Google assigned phone number for these cases. For ease of use the throwaway phone could forward its calls to your primary phone which might compromise your anonymity but would protect your identity by obscuring it (the data mining company would only know your "throwaway number" and would probably need a court order to see that it was just proxy for your primary number.)

It seems to me that this would adequately protect your anonymity on your primary cell phone / internet connection while still allowing you to divulge personal information without it being linked to that phone number.

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