Why do cellphones RETAIN so much information?

I understand aspects of cellphones pinging towers and such, being capable of tying into mapping services, and retaining recent call info. But why are cellphones set up such that they RETAIN such information - some of which, if I understand correctly, cannot be deleted?

I could imagine that if someone wanted to use an app that required such data storage, that they ought to be informed that the needed to enable some function, rather than making it the default.

What is the argument that this is a service for users, as opposed to a potential benefit for providers/vendors? How much inconvenience would result if so much data was not retained?

Just what data are you talking about?

I’m no expert, but I understand they retain records of where you’ve been, including at what times and for how long. And information about calls made/received?

Not only does the carrier retain information about calls placed and received, they send it to you every month.

On a smartphone almost every app has good reasons to remember settings (including credentials to access data from a server that the app uses); very many apps retain a history of field inputs for usability reasons; many apps (e.g. mail) locally cache data to enable working with them without a data connection.

Some of this information is on your phone, but if I understand the way the system works, the majority and the long term storage of this data is on the phone company’s records.

If the OP is referring to the data that Apple was (more-or-less anonymously) collecting, it was used to improve WiFi and cellular service.

Sorry - I imagine I was mistaken. Had not been paying too much attention to the sort of data the FBI wanted off of that shooter’s phone. I imagine much of that was kept by the user himself, reflecting his friends/contacts/etc. Posted this after reading an article in the paper today alleging that an iPhone using iOS 7 or higher kept Location Services under Privacy. On re-reading that article, I understand it applies if you have relaxed at least some of your privacy settings.

My phone is a Droid, and I did not see anything in Settings analogous to what the article described. Nevermind.

The majority of the privacy concerns about mobile phones, smart or dumb, is the vast amount of info the *phone company *keeps about you and your whereabouts.

This info is not transmitted to or stored on your phone; it’s created and stored on the phone company’s systems. It knows essentially 24/7/365 where the phone is and generally about everything it sent or received.

For standard SMS texts, they have the complete timestamped transcript. For calls they know what number you called or called you and how long you talked, but not what was said. For data they may know which services you connected to. They won’t be fully recording what you did there, but often the pattern of basic connections gives some pretty strong clues.

And because all this is on their systems not your device, there’s nothing you can do to erase this info. Your only hope is to not cause them to create the data in the first place. Your only way to do that is by not having a universal tracking device, er … um … I mean a phone.

This is the thing about cell phones I cannot imagine.

If, fifty years ago, the Government issued a decree that every person in the country MUST carry a location tracker, there would have been riots in the streets and politicians strung from telephone poles.

But: make it an expensive Status Symbol and give it a buzz about how MUCH of your data it can report, and the population breaks down doors to have the privilege of being tracked.

And: was it 1984 in which the protagonist had TV screens on 3 of his walls and was saving to buy a screen for the fourth wall?

Except, it isn’t the government doing this, and the purpose isn’t a “location tracker”.

I think you misunderstand. A 16GB smartphone (a small one nowadays) is ENORMOUS. It can hold massive amounts of data, probably every email you’ve sent or received in the last few years; every text message since you got the phone; plus photos galore, taken by you or sent to you. Even if you only keep a week’s worth of email, it may have a tracking list of everyone you sent or received email from, to fill in your sending emails with the correct spelling of contacts. Plus, you may have saved attachments from your emails, even if the message itself is gone. I’m not sure how recoverable expired / deleted items are, but based on how PC’s work, it may be easy to recover(?).

You may have apps that track your path; but generally location data is data kept by the cellphone company. As long as your phone is powered on and ready to receive calls, even if the screen is off, it is pinging the nearest cell tower every few seconds or so to say “I’m still here” so the system knows where to send incoming calls. For some reason, the cell company stores that information for a while (I think). Certainly, in real time it would be trivial to track. Since most cells include a GPS nowadays, the tower can also ask that data in order to enhance cell signal reception and hand-off to the next tower.

The FBI, as I understand, wants to see if there are any extra email accounts on the phone, and if so, who the emails were to/from. Considering the couple specifically destroyed their personal phones before going postal on his workplace, but left this one intact, odds are there’s nothing worthwhile on it.

But once Apple produces the software to crack this phone, there are hundreds of phones help by police all over the country awaiting the same treatment for less high-profile, less compelling cases; so Apple knows this is the thin edge of the wedge. Samsung couldn’t have planned it better to trash American tech’s reputation if they had distributed free iPhones themselves to terrorists.

I think you’re mixing together 1984 and the '60s short story “The Walls” by Keith Laumer (anthologized in Nine By Laumer).

Whatever the “purpose”, it IS a location tracker - with owner’s name, address, list of friends, photos, whatever - awaiting whatever “purpose” anyone with the ability to implement it wants it to serve.

Do we really need a refresher course on Big Business + Big Government?

It’s not like ATT has a long history of resisting USA.

The reason you can see this text is because DARPA decided the ATT network might be useful for DOD C&C.

Good thing those smart kids in Washington passed the You Don’t Have To Get A Cellphone Act of 1989. We really dodged a bullet there.

I would have suggested Fahrenheit 451 - I think Montag’s wife is the one who wants a fourth TV wall.

The general argument is simply that it might allow them to produce a better product. As a developer, my general philosophy boils down to a) storage is cheap, b) track everything we can, and c) never delete anything. The concerns I have are related to performance (it takes time to transmit/store massive amounts of metadata) and cost (my time). Privacy concerns are another issue altogether, and as a consumer I can certainly appreciate them, but when I’m trying to troubleshoot an issue or figure out which aspects of the UI I need to focus on the most, I want as much data to pore through as possible.

In terms of data, text is really tiny. My email file from Outlook has every email I’ve sent/received for the past sixteen years (WAG: 15 emails per day), and it’s less than 2 GB.

Photos? Assuming 2 MB each, 16 GB is enough for 8000 pics.

Even MP3 files aren’t terribly big, maybe 5 MB for the typical pop song; 16GB is enough space for maybe 250 albums.

You have to get into video before you really start chewing up storage; a few minutes of HD footage can take up gigabytes of space.

The real point is that we are not carrying mobile phones. We are carrying personal computers in our pockets. Your typical iPhone has more storage than a medium sized supercomputer of 20 years ago. (1996 I installed a SGI Power Challenge. It ranked in the Top 500. 1GB RAM, 32 GB striped disk array. 20 200HHz R10000 processors). It is something of a useful (but not critical) coincidence that your device also makes phone calls. We used to buy PDAs that didn’t. You can buy an iPhone that doesn’t make calls. It is called an iPod Touch. They are popular with parents who buy them for kids too young to trust with a phone. Most phones run Unix in one form or another. The entire internal environment for the phone is no different to a conventional computer system. In essence the OP’s question is no different to asking “why does my PC retain so much information?”. The amount of information applications on a PC that is retained about its use by the whole range of applications and services running would astound most people. Some is gratuitous and lazy programming, some is useful. Some is simply because it has always been done that way.

You can still buy dumb cell phones.

That seems to click - my memory of those stories have kinda all intertwined in my old age.

  • usedtobe, who does NOT have a cell. Let alone one with my entire friggin’ life on it