Lack of Security within mobile OSes isn't anything new. Developers have seen the gaping holes for quite some time an the public is just starting to become aware. Back on April 5th the WSJ did some pretty impressive research on Pandora's invasive practices within the Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems, and both seem to be unable in stop applications from taking what they want out of the phone (at least for now).
With the latest iOS is tracking you story making national headlines, the general consumer seems to be catching on that their devices are peeking in on what they are doing, or at least they think they are (and their apps are likely doing even more privacy damage). The whole buzz around this privacy issue is eerily similar to that of "antenna-gate" and it's best Apple get in front of this as they did with the iPhone 4's attenuation story. It is critical Apple blows holes in mis-information and rumor before it becomes an assumed fact the Apple is stealing your every move from iOS devices.
On September 11, 2010, Apple was all but forced to deliver a Special Event to select media, defending their iPhone 4 from the rabid mis-information spread across the internet and greater media. Until Apple held the event, the perception of the iPhone 4 was rapidly morphing into a device that could only be held at a distance, with a few fingers, or it would lose reception. The event was amazingly successful. Apple not only went above and beyond in revealing many of their test methods, but they also made sure to take time in throwing potshots at other handset makers antenna issues.
Apple learned from the event that they can not only promote, but play a defensive roll when required, and still come out smelling like a rose. But privacy-gate is gaining momentum, and this appears to be the opportune time for Apple to once again play defense, while setting itself apart from Android. Jobs and company could clearly convey a few points, showing the world that yes, they deeply care about privacy. But Apple needs to move fast or their opportunity to set themselves apart will be lost.
Apple should communicate the following points:
- Carriers track phones for purposes of cell tower usage, and for future strategic planning. But this has always been done since the technology has been in existence to do so. Have a problem with that? Take it up with the carriers.
- The tracking feature file recently found within iOS was a mistake it was left in, and was NEVER used by Apple, nor was any of the data EVER transmitted to – or collected by Apple – EVER.
- The file that collects this data is being completely eliminated in a software update available today.
- The iPhone itself will NEVER track you or your movements whenever you have GPS location services turn off.
- However, Applications are a different story, and iOS 5 is going to deliver industry-leading privacy security.
It is this last point where Apple could score major points against the competition, chiefly Google's Android OS. Jobs and company could blast away with iOS 5 securely locking out applications abilities to access private data. But perhaps the most impressive thing Apple could do is to have Steve Jobs deliver something like this:
"You know, we really love our customers, we really do. And we really appreciate our developers, and almost all of them are doing a great job with privacy, but some aren't, and our first responsibility is to our customers. iOS 5 is going to be amazing, and you can see that with just what we've shown you regarding privacy, something our competition is just way, way, behind in figuring out, and you can see we are dead serious about it, and I'm not just saying that – I'm really not. We are serious about security, we really are.
And since iOS 5 is not out yet, we asked ourselves how can we be bring enhanced privacy to our customers today? And I think we've come up with something pretty great. We've talked to many app developers to change their apps, and some have, and some have not, and we've been testing apps across the board and we are compiling a list of apps that are not adhering to our developer agreement, and we are pulling these applications from the App Store – today. We will gladly re-post the apps once they are in privacy compliance, but until then they are out. But we are going even further. We are also giving customers a new warning on their phones within today's update. If anyone has these apps installed that we are pulling off the app store, we will notify them of the privacy violations through the app store updater and they can choose to delete or keep the apps on their iOS devices. And if they delete the application, we will be giving them store credit back from that purchase."
In a single 90 minute event, Apple could turn the perception (real or not) of iOS being insecure into the mobile white knight of privacy, while positioning Android as being a leech on your private life. A special event addressing security would be a big step in developing a deeper trust with current and would-be Apple users.