James Butler's Blog

Apple's Watchful Eye

August 24, 2010 08:34

How much information about you does the maker of your cell phone need?

This is the big question in my mind after reading about Apple's newly-exposed patent application.

The broad strokes of what Apple wants to be able to do to iUsers from a remote location include:

  • Take a picture without any indication that it has happened ... no flash, no click, no notice. Where will the camera be aimed when such a photo is snapped? Will it be trained on the inside of a drawer ... or maybe on the contents of your bathtub?
  • Record the user's voice, with or without an active phone call. That "top secret" meeting? No iPhones allowed, just like Elmo.
  • Create and store for use a "signature" of the owner's heartbeat. Your heartbeat. As a security device. Next up? Pheremones.
  • To determine if the device has been hacked, they want to watch for "a sudden increase in memory usage". Like if you download a bunch of movies from Netflix or something ... keep your eyes peeled for the cops at the door, because Apple thinks your device is being hacked. Oh, yeah ... they'll also check to see if the device is "jailbroken", so watch out for that, too. You could wake up with a "brick".
  • Monitor and store for use Internet and telephony activity "packets". After all of their screaming about Google's Street View, this is pretty surprising.
  • Take a photograph of the device's surrounding location, again, without notice to the owner. Great. More of your life stored without notice to you on Apple servers somewhere ... and probably offered for sale to hundreds of marketing firms.

Supposedly, these measures (and more!) will help Apple protect you and your iDevice.

Frankly, the cure is worse than the disease. 

If Apple thinks its userbase will let it roll right over their privacy, it's probably right. The Apple userbase has been subjected to a lot of arrogance from the computer company, so they'll probably swallow whatever Steve Jobs tells them is good for them. It seems to be part and parcel of the psychological profile applied to Apple product users since Lisa was plopped into the retail space.

But for Apple to declare that obtaining this information without notice to the user, without any indication of how long the data will be kept, or for what it will be used ... and I mean really used, not for the lame "security" reasons they included in their patent application ... and without any indication with which third parties it will share such information, the iUser had better get their heads out of the sand long enough to bray, "Enough!"

The ethics of capturing data in secret from a device your company sold are not discussed too often in any serious manner. Most such discussions are quickly ended with fanboi retorts of, "if you don't like it, don't buy it." But the fact that companies like Apple believe they have a right and a responsibility to continuously and surreptitiously gather all sorts of data from their customers does not make it ethical.

In my opinion, it is EXTREMELY unethical to maintain ANY sort of contact with a customer's kit following the purchase as Apple insists on doing UNLESS the customer PRO-ACTIVELY requests such service. "Services" like those proposed by Apple should NEVER be bundled with the original purchase. To do so KNOWINGLY takes advantage of the fact that customers do NOT read the fine print, and are usually in such a lather to purchase the device that they are not thinking as clearly as they should while standing at the checkout counter.

So, Apple, go ahead and sell your little toys/spy devices. But advertise your "value-added" products like any other, and let your customers decide AFTER they have already bought the device whether they want to sign on to your Big Brother Over-The-Shoulder Nanny services, okay?

It will make your products more appealing, and it will certainly help with your increasingly bad public image. 

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