Apple Privacy Concerns

Over at BYTE we have been discussing Apples creation of a file on certain iOS devices that stores geolocation data over a long period of time. The business side of this discussion is very interesting, but I am going to focus on the consumer aspects. In order to understand the type of information being stored, here is an application that lets you read the data on your iPhone. Also, here is an article on how you can encrypt that information, at least on your computer.

First, although I know many don't care that this information is known because they freely give it out via social media, that should not be the expectation for everyone. Some choose to broadcast locations, some do not. To let Apple off the hook here by saying that the world is moving in this direction seems to be in error. Not everyone wants the world to move in that direction, and it doing so has not yet been proved to be a good thing. 

Second, why is Apple creating this file? I know all the evidence is that they are not receiving the information, but John C. Dvorak obviously isn't accepting that at face value. Hopefully Dvorak is wrong and this is a programming mistake. Alex Levinson in the above link argues that location-based apps need this type of information. I personally can't think of any apps that need my location over a years length of time. Until somebody points out an actual app that uses this information, I am skeptical about this argument.

Third, even if we trust Apple, the creation of the file alone, especially without the user's knowledge, is not good. As others have said, any computer-savy person with access to the phone or iTunes can now know the general location of a person for the past year. Spouses, employers, and lawyers may find that information extremely interesting. Now that this file is known to exist, people will be looking for it and using it in ways that will only hurt the person being tracked. How can the existence of this information in any way aid the person being tracked?

Fourth, Is Apple the only company doing this? Others have said being tracked is now a way of life, but I can only think of the government and the phone company that has access to this information. Adding Apple to this short list doesn't make me happy.

My hope in this whole thing is that Apple realizes some engineer coded something wrong and this file is a mistake. I also hope that all the reports of Apple not collecting this information are true. My final hope is that this makes us all more aware of how we are being tracked by the technology we use and let companies know that some forms of tracking are not yet acceptable.

UPDATE: The WSJ has a great article on how Google and Apple are storing certain types of information to their databases. Google, however, is opt-in

RIM's PlayBook a Failure?

I haven't had any hands-on time with the PlayBook, but I have read many of the recent reviews. Many of them landed late April 13th, and I was surprised to see a narrative developing the next morning that the reviews were largely negative and RIM's stock was dropping accordingly. That isn't what I understood the reviews to be saying.

The reviews mostly agree on:
1. The hardware is wonderful, although the power button is a problem.
2. The software has a great core similar to webOS, but it appears rushed. Aside from the unique ability to connect to a BlackBerry over bluetooth, it is missing many essential applications. This is a glaring mistake, but also one that we have known about for a long time.
3. There is a lack of apps.
4. It will get better with future software updates and the addition of Android-app capability. But for now, nobody recommends it unless you are a BlackBerry user and want to connect the two.

I don't see these by any means reflecting "poor" reviews full of "jeers" as many of the larger websites are reporting. Instead, they reflect that this is a 1.0 version of a product. Android wasn't this polished when it first launched. Does the PlayBook currently compete with the iPad? No. Will it? Maybe. The tablet wars are just beginning.

These reviews together bring up the same question for RIM: What is this tablet? RIM is trying to do too many things. On the one hand it is for BlackBerry users, on the other it someday will have the capabilities to be a great tablet for all. On the one hand it had its own SDK and app environment, on the other hand it will be able to run Android apps. I do not know if consumers will like this fence-sitting. But then again, if they can pull it all off, and quickly, maybe having the best of all worlds is really what consumers want.

UPDATE: See Gina's great article on the playbook that incorporates a few of my ideas.