Just What Does Apple Plan to Do With My Location Data?

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appleADOTAS – I hate starting a day with the question, “Am I being paranoid or not paranoid enough?” Of course I’ve got data privacy on my mind, though it surprises me that Facebook isn’t the cause of my distress today — et tu Apple?

With the launch of the new iPhone and iOS4, Apple has added a paragraph to its privacy policy: “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.”

It explains that the data is collected anonymously and will only be used by the company and its pals to “provide and improve location-based products and services.” Is that all, though?

Users have to agree to the updated privacy policy before they can download apps from the App Store, which is the only app resource for Apple mobile devices.

These partners and licensees are unnamed, of course — shadowy figures at best. The move seems akin to Apple thumbing its nose at the notion of data transparency — this is the same kind of thing that has drawn the ire of Facebookers. Also there’s no talk about how long Apple will keep the data and under what safeguards.

This business isn’t really related to iAd’s launch next week, as users can easily opt out of cookie collection by heading to http://oo.apple.com. Apple simply laments that you’ve cursed yourself to boring mobile ads that suck.

Also, in its general settings menu, Apple has added a “Location Services” page that allows users to stop apps from using location info. So yes, Apple has covered several of its opt0out bases, but there doesn’t appear to be anything preventing the company itself from collecting and using the data, sharing it with its friends…

To do what?

Don’t give me that “trust us” bullshit — why won’t Apple just come out with some bullet points, a PowerPoint presentation (OK, maybe not PowerPoint) that details how long the location data will be stored, who exactly it will be shared with and the various ways it will be used, not some limp example like “providing better apps.”

And we can’t turn a blind eye to rival Google — it collects the same data from phones running Android.

This is why federal regulation is necessary — it would certainly make consumer worry warts sleep a little easier knowing that an agency is watching out for them.

Stifle competition and business? That’s crap — companies should want their users comfortable with how their information is being used. You really think it’s better business to leave your customers worried about who’s tracking their every move?

To some extent, this is another episode of the “Whose data is it anyhow?” game. Perhaps it can be viewed as a fair trade: for using its OS, a company gets to record your whereabouts and share them. But am I the only one who thinks that’s a helluva lot of power for Apple and Google to wield?

Anyway, European governments, which are far more hard-line when it comes to user privacy, are going to have a shit fit. I’m going to microwave some popcorn because watching the fallout will be quite entertaining — German Consumer Protection Minister Isle Aigner, I’m waiting for your condemnation!

3 COMMENTS

  1. Whatever happened to good sense? As Will Rogers said, “Common sense isn’t common.” I didn’t find any sense at all in this article.

    Why on earth is federal regulation necessary? If you don’t like Apple’s terms – don’t use their products. Same goes for Google, Microsoft, and every other vendor that slaps terms of use on their products.

    You have choices – at least for now. I’m far more frightened by a government agency misusing my information than I am of any company doing so. If Apple misuses information about me, I can sue them. They have a lot to lose. Go ahead, try to sue a government agency that has the power to throw you in jail (if you can even bring suit in the first place).

    I’m quite comfortable with Apple. They’ve provided me some wonderful tools over the past three decades. I’d much rather let Apple and other ‘wield the power’ than a government over which I have no recourse.

    Free to choose – I love the concept.

    p.s. Apple would likely use ‘Keynote’ – the vastly superior presentation software – to share their bullet points.

    p.p.s. Your use of vulgar slang detracts from any legitimate point you may have been trying to make. To me, it suggests you are fully aware that your arguments are weak. I would have thought adotas had higher journalistic standards.

  2. You can’t sue Apple, that’s just silly. First, unless you’re very rich, they have the money to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court and ensure legal costs are way beyond what you can afford. Secondly, with no privacy legislation and with vague wording in the T&C’s, what are you going to sue them for?
    Governments and private business will use your data for their own interests, with little regard for your preferences. Furthermore, different individuals in these organisations will have different concepts of what is acceptable.
    Legislation provides everyone with clear guidelines, and provides a basis for court action if people require it.
    If you think companies should be trusted and allowed free reign with your data, then you should lobby for laws which say so. If you think there should be limits, then lobby for laws which spell those limits out.
    Privacy legislation works to everyone’s benefit. The concept of legislation itself does not specify what should be legal – only that society would then have a clear basis of understanding.
    Privacy legislation is inevitable. There has never been a field of technology, business, or government which did not eventually have laws surrounding it. The web is no different.

  3. Brandt, what is ‘silly’ is the notion that “Legislation provides everyone with clear guidelines…”.

    I suspect you’ve never been on either end of a lawsuit. The adversarial nature of our legal system ensures that legislation is never ‘clear.’ For that matter, nothing is ever as ‘clear’ as most proponents of controlling behavior through legislation seem to think it is.

    On an individual level you may be correct that I don’t have enough money to sue Apple. However, the notion of suing large companies is nowhere as ‘silly’ as you attempt to make it. If the damage to me were sufficient, I know of dozens of attorneys who would take my single case on contingency (no out of pocket on my part). If the damage were less severe but still included others, these same attorneys know full-well how to file class-action suits. I can tell you that no Fortune 1000 company has a legal department that considers any potential lawsuit as ‘silly’ as you suggest. With regard to a cause for a suit, there are plenty of things I could sue for that don’t require privacy legislation or agreement to terms and conditions. The cause for a suit lies in how they use the data and do damage to me and others. No set of legislation or terms and conditions can protect anyone from all circumstances. Attempts to do so typically have more damaging unexpected consequences than having taken no action at all.

    If legislation solved the problems you suggest they would, then there wouldn’t be drunk drivers, illegal gun owners, or drug dealers, to name just a few examples. As you point out, different individuals have different concepts of what is acceptable. Additional privacy legislation shouldn’t be considered “inevitable” and I soundly disagree that it works to “everyone’s benefit.”

    ‘Nanny State’ thinking that legislation will solve social ills ignores all historical proof to the contrary. The free market is a much faster and far more equitable arbiter of ‘what should be done’ when it comes to rules governing social behavior.

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