Dear Reader,

Did Orwell get it right, but is his vision limited?   Instead of a totalitarian regime in one country will we finally be held in the iron fist of an autocratic reign through the vehicle of the WWW?

Recently, it came out that iPhones and 3G iPads running iOS 4 were logging user’s location and dates without their knowledge or permission.   A CNet article addressed the issue: “Should we care?”

In examining this issue, the first comment that comes to mind comes from Karl Bode from Dslreports.com who said, “One thing these uproars do tend to highlight is the fact there’s still a lot of people who mistakenly believe they have any privacy whatsoever when using wireless devices or going online.”[2]  That sentiment was expressed further by Sam Diaz on ZDNet “When it comes to online privacy, here’s something to remember: If you’re going to be all up-in-arms about any violations of it, then quit sharing all of your personal information across social networks and get just as mad when someone other than Google – even if it’s the mighty Apple – does something that seems to intrude on your personal privacy.”[7]

I asked Ben Gregg, Lead Staffing Consultant at Devonshire IT and a great Apple aficionado (@bengregg to follow his technical posts on Twitter),  his opinion on the matter.    Ben likes the tough standards by which Apple screens apps written by outside developers.   He feels that it creates a safe zone for letting children use technology providing an inherent security feature from some would-be technology predators.   With regards to this recent threat, Mr. Gregg admitted to an Apple-favored bias.   He said that he didn’t view Apple as “evil”.   He felt if it was included in the OS then there was a reason for it.   He reflects the cultural image of Apple and faith in the company.  He said that if this came from Microsoft or Google, he would feel threatened also reflecting the cultural image of the subversive nature and wasn’t quite certain what that meant.   So how did Apple become sacrosanct?

In part it could be the language we use.   An Apple is an Apple and anything else is a PC.   Like Apples are somehow inherently superior to PCs — the results of successsful marketing combined with Microsoft’s  early market domination not necessarily from having built an inherently superior machine.   But what is a PC?   A personal computer.  Isn’t an Apple another brand of a personal computer?   Until now, Apples were safe from viruses and other forms of malware due to the fact that they had a different operating system that wasn’t targeted by hackers.   As Apples move more into the mainstream, that may not remain the case.  Apples, after all, are no less a part of the global world wide community than PCs.   And, further, what most folks fail to realize is that their underlying OS is Linux / Unix-based.  Completely open-source unlike Microsoft’s Windows that is properitary and not open to public inspection and unrestricted access.

Mr. Diaz brings a very good point to bear – as we move to a worldwide community brought closer together by the power of the internet and the cloud, we need to restructure our ideas regarding privacy and security.  What does privacy really mean in the world wide web?   How secure are we?

Mr. Bode’s opinion, which was very well reasearched and obviously knoweledgable is that “…these types of issues tend to be overblown and discussion lacks context — given carriers are already tracking your location and using it for a variety of purposes,… “[2] Mr. Gregg echoed this statement by saying that he had nothing to hide and had no problem with his whereabouts being tracked. Neither do I, but do I want that information available to someone without my knowledge or consent?

Messers Allan and Warden don’t seem to think so.   In their FAQ, they write: “The most immediate problem is that this data is stored in an easily-readable form on your machine. Any other program you run or user with access to your machine can look through it.  The more fundamental problem is that Apple are collecting this information at all. Cell-phone providers collect similar data almost inevitably as part of their operations, but it’s kept behind their firewall. It normally requires a court order to gain access to it, whereas this is available to anyone who can get their hands on your phone or computer.”[8]

In examining the data regarding companies who have engaged in these kind of data collection activities, CNet remarked that Google was in trouble for these kinds of data collection practices in the past; however, the Andriod platform does not do this kind of data collection.  “A Microsoft representative told CNET that the company’s Windows Phone platform does not store location history, and that the ‘Find My Phone‘ service only keeps the phone’s most recent location.”[1]   The jury is currently out regarding Research In Motion and Nokia (no word yet).[1]

Apple’s public image as comfortable and safe may leave us somewhat vulnerable to damage from a dystopian society cycle similar to the Nazi rise in Germany or  George Orwell‘s Oceania in 1984 (a good read available at the link to the left).   Hitler rose to unbelievable levels of popularity and power because of his ability to pull Germany out of the great depression of 1930.  He was good for Germany.  The darker side of market domination are never fully known until a company gains a domination.   But is it the privacy and security issues alone that leave us vulnerable?  Perhaps our former desire for anything other than a Microsoft product and their totalitarian grasp that has helped create the current iconic rock-star following for Apple Computer is opening the door.  Will the pendulum swing too far in the other direction?

“Parsons was Winston’s fellow employee at the Ministry of Truth. He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms-one of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more even than on the thought police, the stability of the Party depended.”[3]   

Notes:

1.  http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-20055885-37.html?tag=topStories3

2.  http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Researchers-Your-iPhone-Is-Watching-You-113834

3.  http://classiclit.about.com/od/nineteeneightyfour/a/aa_1984quotes.htm

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four

5.  http://www.george-orwell.org/1984

6. http://www.linkedin.com/in/bengregg

7. http://petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker/#7

Advertisements