Which Wireless Carrier Stores Your Private Data The Longest?

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Mobile devs need to get to OverTheAir this week

Your cell phone knows all sorts of stuff about you. It knows where you’ve been, which websites you’ve visited, who you call most, and, depending on how many times you’ve found yourselves drunk with your cell phone handy, what you look like without pants on. But still, you can be comforted in knowing that all of that information can be destroyed with little more than a brick and a bit of unchecked rage.

But what about the stuff that doesn’t live on your phone? The other half of the wireless formula, the carriers, know a hell of a lot about you too. Who holds onto that data the longest?

Based on a Department Of Justice document obtained by Wired’s Threat Level (after the ACLU obtained it with a Freedom Of Information Act claim), there’s… not really any clear cut answer. Each carrier seems to be the worst in at least one department.

The Worst Offenders:

  • AT&T and T-Mobile hold onto details of who you’ve been texting (but not the content of the message) the longest
  • Verizon is seemingly the only carrier that holds onto the content of your texts, at least in any accessible way
  • Verizon also seems to store your online activity the longest, with Sprint coming in with a close second
  • AT&T and T-Mobile reportedly store your call details for at least half a decade
  • If this document is still accurate (it’s dated August 2010), AT&T has cell tower usage data (giving a rough estimate of where you were) going back as far as July of 2008.

As much as I’d like to praise any one carrier for being a champion of privacy rights, it seems impossible. All of them suck in one way or another.

The moral of the story: be it location or browsing data, every carrier stores potentially damning evidence on you. Don’t do things you wouldn’t want prying eyes to see on your cell phone, because that data probably isn’t going anywhere for a long, long time.