Being tracked in realtime, at all times, might sound like something out of a science fiction movie but in Quebec, you can be tracked if you travel, and honestly, there's not much you can do about it. 

This isn't just some dystopian conspiracy theory. According to geographic information system expert and McGill professor Renee Sieber, cellphone companies already have individual tracking data.

The question is whether governments can use it to watch your movements.

MTL Blog had a chat with Sieber about how you can be tracked in Quebec, how technology companies give out that information, and more. 

Responses have been edited for clarity.

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How are you being tracked right now?

It's really simple: if you have a smartphone, you're being tracked whether you like it or not, according to Sieber. 

"Your cellphone becomes you essentially," she said. 

"By having an active phone with me — a phone that's on — it doesn't matter what app is on, the cellphone provider is tracking my movement in realtime." 

She suggested that avid social media users are exposing their data even more, telling these companies who they are, what they do and how they live their lives. 

"There companies know when I'm going to work, when I'm going to recreation or when I'm visiting friends because they have other information about me and also know what's in these locations."

Cellphone providers and technology companies can then turn around, anonymize that data and sell it, which, according to Sieber, is completely legal. 

But even if the information is anonymous, Sieber says there are ways to identify individuals.

"You cannot make this data sufficiently private anymore."

Why would the government want to track you?

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted governments' ability to use this information.

"Cellphone companies have become very cozy with governments to provide them with this data for public health reasons," Sieber explained. 

"Cellphone companies know where you are in space and time. The moment you hand that off for whatever national security or public health reason, the government knows where you are."

Other details can also be gleaned from tracking data, like how you're getting from point A to point B.

"People think about tracking as where you are right now, but what they forget when they're looking at location-based technology is that actually, the path you're taking is as important." 

So could a government look at individual travel if it acquired data from these companies? According to Sieber, the answer is yes.

Even though the government might not be using your tracked data in a nefarious way, there is potential for your data to be used as a tool to enforce travel restrictions.

Earlier this year, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) made clear that it was prepared to use cell phone geolocation to find people with COVID-19 who were not in isolation.

A spokesperson for the provincial police force told MTL Blog at the time that it would not use cellphone geolocation data outside of these circumstances.

But Sieber is generally skeptical of the relationship between governments and cellphone and technology companies and was unsure how much tracking the public would tolerate.

"People have given over these minute details about their lives and know they are being tracked."

"People already accept that as a cost of having access to these technologies."

"Are people aware on a conscious level of the implications of that? Maybe yes, maybe no."

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