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Wave and smile!

The LATimes online says, “Apple Inc. is now collecting the ‘precise,’ ‘real-time geographic location’ of its users’ iPhones, iPads and computers.”

Well, at least they are being “upfront” about it! :-) I am quite certain that a number of organizations are collecting and sharing your real-time geographic location collected by triangulation and GPS, even on low-priced “dumbphones,” like mine! (I would really RATHER have an iPhone, but Apple insists on making them tied to AT&T’s network in the U.S.)

Apple updated its privacy policy to include a paragraph stating that once users agree, Apple and unspecified “partners and licensees” may collect and store user location data. Apple states that the data are anonymous and do not personally identify users. (Just fyi – large corporate customers have worried about this kind of “stuff” FOR YEARS! I remember their questions about query retention policies, shortly after I got out of graduate school.) Analysts have shown, however, that large, specific data sets can be used to identify people based on behavior patterns.

Apple provides this description:

“To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.

Some location-based services offered by Apple, such as the MobileMe “Find My iPhone” feature, require your personal information for the feature to work.”

For comparison, Google offers a similar description:

“If you use location-enabled products and services, such as Google Maps for mobile, you may be sending us location information. This information may reveal your actual location, such as GPS data, or it may not, such as when you submit a partial address to look at a map of the area.”

CNET notes that the LATimes Business section article exhibits a bit of alarm. That’s because a lot of “business writers” (and “business readers” :-) ) are not as technologically “savvy” as they CLAIM to be (or NEED to be)! Erica Ogg’s CNET article notes that Steve Job addressed the same topic at the D: All Things Digital conference earlier this month. Jobs said that Apple wants customers to always have to opt-in when they are sharing their location:

“We worry a lot about location in phones,” Jobs said. “We have rejected a lot of apps that want to take your personal data and suck it up into the cloud. A lot of people in the Valley think we are really old-fashioned about that, and maybe we are. Privacy means people know what they are signing up for in plain English…Some people want to share more data. Ask them. Ask them every time. Let them know precisely what you are going to do with their data.”

Do I “worry” about things like “location” and “identity?” (“What? Me worry?:-) )

Yes and no….

I think about “identity” and “location” in terms of the broader landscape of capabilities, of which many folks may be unaware, such as the remote activation of the microphone of cell phones as a surveillance tool, disclosed way back in 2006 (and commercial products), the remote activation of laptop Web cams (cell phone cameras?), the sophistication of facial recognition software, and the overabundance of cameras, everywhere.

Are all of the people who are interested in your personal information and location as “upfront” about it as Apple and Google? Heck no! :-) People have been collecting such information for a long time.

The fact that business writers (and readers) are alarmed about it now simply means that they have NOT BEEN PAYING ATTENTION. (“He who knows not and knows not he knows not: he is a fool – shun him.“)

So… the next time that you pull up to a “traffic camera” at an intersection, just “wave and smile.” :-)

And if you want privacy (Ted Kaczynski comes to  mind!), leave your cell phone (dumbphone, iPhone, Droid, iPad, On-Star, cable TV, laptop, etc.) behind… although cabins in Montana are not as cheap as they once were, and underground locations are probably better for avoiding surveillance by satellites and drones. :-)

(Note added July 1, 2010: Although this is more important in other parts of the world than in the U.S. currently, it struck me as ironic and darkly humorous that “modern humans” would think about returning to caves to avoid “Predators.” :-) )

(Note added June 22, 2010: Elinor Mills of CNET wrote an article today, citing SMobile Systems’ Android market threat report, stating that about 20% of the 48,000 apps in the Android marketplace allow a third-party application access to sensitive or private information.)

(Note added June 25, 2010: A representative of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission [FTC] recently said that current privacy laws fail to protect American consumers and instead place too much of a “burden” on them.)

(Note added June 27, 2010: Just yesterday, I saw THIS article on CNET about police groups, the FBI, and intelligence agencies pushing Congress to CONTINUE to allow the practice of tracking cell phones without a warrant. Of course, the EXCUSE given is public safety – it would take too long to get a warrant in the case of kidnapped children! “Safety” is one of the excuses given for erosion of our liberties. The solution, in this case, is SIMPLE! Congress could write an EXCEPTION in the law for cases of kidnapped children!)

-Bill at

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