Everyone worries about the drunken photos of themselves posted on Facebook that could leak out to the wider world — whether it's to that cute guy or girl, your parents, or, worse yet, future employers.
But that isn't the half of it. Facebook has nothing on cell phones, which have become the most powerful weapon of privacy invasion ever.
With the appropriate use of cellular technology, parents can fence in their children, spouses can read their partners' text messages and the government can pinpoint a caller's location to within a few feet — all facts of which most people are unaware.
Consider those infamous little service bars. How else could those bars be extrapolated without constant communication with your carrier's nearest cellular antenna?
By triangulating the phone's position based on its communication with a number of the closest towers, the accuracy with which the carrier can determine the phone's location can be narrowed down to say, 50 meters. If the phone has GPS capabilities, the user's location can be pinpointed within a matter of feet.
The carriers have that information as a given. But the government can grab it quite easily.
A New York judge ruled in 2005 that the government could obtain a phone's tracking data without a warrant, as the user voluntarily chose to carry the phone and so implicitly allowed the transmission of tracking information.
With the right tools, your neurotic ex, overbearing parents or run-of-the-mill stalker can haunt you as well.
Some trackers are built into the service contract, as with Verizon's "Chaperone," which texts parents when their children leave parentally-designated boundaries. Or the tracking can be voluntarily enabled, as with the new service Google Latitude, which allows a user to transmit their phone's location to his approved friends.
Most worrying of all is software, such as that offered by Big Daddy Technology, LLC., a firm whose motto is, "Because Big Brother shouldn't have all the fun!"
By exploiting the intricacies of ubiquitous Bluetooth connections, such software allows the at-home spy to read a compromised phone's text messages, view its photos, access its call logs and even eavesdrop on live conversations — all in a manner almost totally invisible to the phone user.
Fortunately, software offered by Big Daddy is expensive, and few partners value their neuroticism that highly. More worrisome are free services, such as Google Latitude.
If a partner has a reason to suspect cheating and therefore demands their significant other install Latitude, the suspected partner — rightly or not — is obviously in a bit of a spot. Or, sneakier still, the potential cheatee can simply swipe the phone of the "cheater," and quickly enable Latitude.
Then there's the prospect of employers forcing their employees to submit to tracking, and of stores using tracking to spy on their customers — both of which are happening currently, though on a small scale.
So don't freak out over Facebook — freak out about your cell phone.
This story was filed by UWIRE, which offers reporting from more than 800 colleges and universities worldwide. Read more at www.uwire.com.