Recently a big stink over user privacy has reared its ugly head again, but this time about one of my favorite products and something I use daily, if not hourly — the iPhone. Security researchers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warde revealed last week that Apple was storing logs of users' geographic coordinates in a hidden file. The researchers didn't know why Apple was doing this or what it was using the data for, but they said Apple indeed is gathering this information about the whereabouts of its iPhone users.
Apple's general counsel Bruce Sewall gave the following statement last June in response to a congressman's inquiry about Apple's privacy practices.
"To provide the high quality products and services that its customers demand, Apple must have access to the comprehensive location-based information."
And to that I borrow a phrase from Windows 7 Phone commercials, "Really!?!?" I understand that if I'm traveling in the car and want to know how far I am from my destination location services can be a time saver. But does that mean I want Apple (or anyone) knowing the exact route I took, if I took a potty-break at the rest stop or stopped for gas along the way? Of course not.
Apple's not alone in this trampling on user privacy. Google, Facebook and Microsoft have also been notorious for taking information from unsuspecting users of their services. There is an adage, "just because you can, doesn't mean you should." It is obvious that any technology we use could have some secret mechanism to record and archive that action. However that doesn't mean it should.
As much as I like the market to correct itself, if one of these companies doesn't start to behave and take the lead then congress will need to step in, which most likely will be an awful mess. That's why I suggest if Apple, Google, Facebook or Microsoft were straightforward with their customers about what they were collecting, why there were doing it and gave users the opportunity to opt-out of said data collection, that company would have much to gain. It would show that they care more about their customers than do their competitors AND most likely force (aka shame) others to follow such practices. Those companies that continued covert data collection practices would start to look like creepy stalkers.
In this information age the worst thing is not for Apple to collect information about you during transactions or Google to know what you've been searching on or for Facebook to know who your friends are. What's down right scary is for all this information to be brought together for a comprehensive profile about you and me. That would be real power, and that much power in anyone's hands would be extremely dangerous.
Let's hope one of these behemoths will step up to the privacy plate and hit a home run for their customers. Until then, Location Services on my iPhone has been turned off.