Dirk Knemeyer

Apple, China, and internet privacy

Apple, China, and internet privacy, April 26, 2011

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

The big story last week is that Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices have been tracking and storing the movements of their users since the release of Apple’s iOS 4 operating system last year. Within days it was devices based on Google’s Android are doing the same thing. Initial responses of shock and concern were quickly replaced with people trying to hack the feature and use the data in other ways, then followed by what seems like a collective yawn.

Honestly, I find the indifference a little head-scratching. When we reported on the Chinese government’s plan to track the movements of all their citizens in larger cities via device embedded GPS, people were quick to make snarky comments and bemoan the state of the poor Chinese people. Yet, when a US corporation is accused of accumulating the same data secretly, we all let out a collective yawn. Look, it can’t be both ways. Either privacy is important and attempts to track individuals using geolocation technology is odious, or it is just a part of living the modern world and there is nothing to see here. We can’t treat the Chinese government one way because they are historically authoritarian and Apple another way because their shiny objects give us warm fuzzies as we smugly hunker down in Starbucks with a black turtleneck and latte.

Personally, I think governmental and corporate use of modern technology to track individuals is chilling. If we assume everyone’s intent is benign, and/or it is being done to help combat terrorism or some other safety measure, then it seems superficially good, or at least not bad. But what if governments of companies have other agendas? History is littered with good leadership replaced by bad, seemingly sane and benign rules being replaced by the malevolent. Even if we ultimately decide the risk of a possible negative future known is worth whatever the benefits the technology provides now, we should at least be vigilant. We shouldn’t shrug when it is revealed that Apple, secretly no less, has been gathering this information. We should be skeptical, probing and concerned. Our privacy, identify and autonomy rely on some degree of self-control. It might be easy to forget that in the kumbaya of social media and technology, but, at least here in the United States, if we hope to cultivate a relatively free country for ourselves and our decedents, we must give a shit when we learn beloved media darling companies are tracking our every move.