That explosion you heard yesterday was the internet finding out that iPhones are tracking our every move and — gasp! — storing historical data about our whereabouts over time.
I’ve read at least one article, written by a total bonebag, positing that this is all a plot by the Obama administration.. Other reports are a bit less extreme, but as you can probably imagine, hyperbole saw its shadow and we can now expect another six weeks of absurd speculation.
The most level-headed take I’ve seen comes from Andy Ihnatko:
Finally, there’s “The ‘Ick’ Factor.” I don’t believe that Apple is up to anything nefarious here (again, I think it’s tracking the performance of the phone and not the movements of the user) but it makes the iPhone look very, very bad. That’s not to say that other phones don’t do even ickier things with user data…but this one’s big and public and easy to demonstrate on a nightly newscast.
In other words, at best, Apple’s got some ‘splainin to do. At worst, Steve Jobs is aiding and abetting a government invasion of your privacy. Ain’t nothin’ but a thang.
Still, it would seem that all of the caveats that make this seem “less bad” are countered by the fact that Apple didn’t tell anyone that this information was being logged.
So, for the sake of avoiding the debate, we’ll just agree that Apple should have disclosed this and if it was a deliberate secret: Bad Apple!
Now that we know it’s there, the question becomes: Is there any reason a person (you or me) might actually want access to such information?
Virtually every objection I’ve seen to storing tracking data is that someone might get caught doing something they shouldn’t have been doing, based on the existence of incriminating evidence that they weren’t able to wipe, because they didn’t know it existed. That’s true. If you cheat on your wife and say you were in place A but your iPhone puts you in place B (someone else’s vagina, perhaps) — that could lead to an awkward confrontation. Or, if you were “eating lasagna on fifth avenue” while your phone says you were “murdering your boss on 2nd street” — whoops.
But, isn’t the opposite just as true? I mean, presumably there are some people who could prove their innocence based on the existence of tracking data?
More importantly, something I keep reading is that very similar information is kept “secure” by cell companies and that law enforcement officers can subpoena that information and use it against you in a court of law.
If a corporation has access to (and controls information about) my whereabouts over time — and can be forced to hand it over to Joe Friday — I want to have my own local copy of that same information. The more detailed, the better.
Yes, I want to know that I have it, and I want to be sure it’s not being sent to anyone else, but I sure hope that we have the option of keeping this data once we find out why it exists in the first place. For those of us who are in the habit of being faithful to our wives and who only THINK about killing our bosses (kidding!) it seems like valuable data, and nothing to be nervous about.