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


Shaunna said...

Very interesting Seth! Love to read your thoughts.

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