Are We Really Calling It ‘Locationgate’?


angry_small.jpgADOTAS – Don’t do it… Don’t do it… ARGGGH! Too late… The media has christened the controversy over Apple’s mobile location data collecting “Locationgate.” Just typing that word makes me want to bludgeon myself with my keyboard.

But the “scandal” has blown wide open — it’s a plague on the mobile spectrum. Android collects similar data, but refreshes the file. Microsoft is another mobile location data miner.

It’s hard to work up a sweat about this news because I wrote about it last summer when Apple publicly changed its privacy policy. That’s right — this data collection has been out in the open for a while, and Apple said in its privacy policy that there was no opting out. Others noted that Android too collected similar data; Windows Phone 7 hadn’t yet been launched, but I’m sure we would have written about that too.

I suggested this was the exact kind of circumstance that warranted government oversight. One commenter called me nuts. Now congresspeople of all shapes and sizes and parties are demanding answers from mobile OS architects.

Wa-lah — Locationgate. Hottest tech scandal since Antennagate. And yet using such a tired media cliche as “+ gate” for all the hoopla seems oddly appropriate.

On Friday Business Insider editor-in-chief Henry Blodgett was in absolute disbelief that there was so little outrage over the report that Apple has been keeping records of users’ locations on their iPhones. Only thing is it wasn’t really news — Apple has made it known through its privacy policy for a year that it is collecting user location data. The only somewhat shocking thing was that the file housing the data appears easy to hack.

But that didn’t stop Blodgett from making hysterical proclamations like, “Apple has so mesmerized you that you live in the reality distortion field.” The headline, I kid you not, began “IT’S OFFICIAL: Apple Has Brainwashed The Whole Country.” (Really wish you BI guys would stop using the all-caps subhead “IT’S OFFICIAL” on stories that are anything but.)

Reading the story made me switch between rolling my eyes and sighing heavily, but one commenter on mades an interesting point: “Maybe the media is to blame. After they sensationalized the coverage of ‘antenna gate’ last summer they lost all credibility. Stop crying wolf!”

At the same time last summer when some journalists were asking what’s up with this new privacy language?, “Antennagate” had all the tech media and plenty of the mainstream media frothing. According to Apple, 0.55% of iPhone users complained about calls being dropped when users squeezed a certain area of their new smartphones, but the media made it sound like no call was safe.

So there’s definitely an argument that the mass part of the media was distracted from the real story, and thus distracted the rest of the public.

Now that the story has become a sensationalist hit, the media echoplex is filled with contradicting reports and hysterical rhetoric designed to draw up smartphone users’ paranoia. It’s the same kind of out-of-touch, ad-revenue-driving-through-page-views coverage that doesn’t inform the public, just confuses us.

Thus another “gate.” Another media-driven scandal. How many of these have I witnessed in 30 years? How many have I seen in the last 10 years? Five years? Last year — two in the tech world alone.

It’s no mystery to me why there’s a lack of consumer outrage — if anything, I’m surprised there’s not more apathy.


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