Sunday, April 24, 2011


Much turbulence in the blogosphere this week about the revelation that the iphone and the ipad record your location and let Steve Jobs's peons know where you are. Even the Observer's John Naughton has weighed in, and has pronounced privacy as dead as a dead thing. He's right, but the iphone is a trivial incursion compared to the other things that have been happening over the years.

Before I kick off about what I believe is some quite lazy thinking, I should show my hand. I am an unabashed fan of Apple; the iphone and ipad have between them changed my life. The invention that makes them both so essential is the internet of course, the truly revolutionary influence in all our lives, but Apples machines have made the net startlingly relevant and above all, helpful.

No more hunting around for a number for a taxi when you're a bit drunk at a party. The Yell app will find the nearest firm. Wondering what the weather will be like on Wednesday? The Met office app will show you straightaway. Trying to organise a revolution in an arab state? There's a few apps for that. And so on, ad infinitum.

So I couldn't do without my iphone, now I'm happily living life with it. Which is where the location function comes in. The iphone and ipad now have a free account with 'mobile me'. A lot of apple iphone owners don't know about it, but it is absolutely essential (and easy) to set up.

Simply put when you log on it shows a map of the world and your phone is there on it, and so is your ipad. If you should lose your phone, or have it taken off you, there it will be. You can lock it, erase it and even send the person who has it a message. With mobile me you have pretty much lost your last phone. You need never worry about the data being compromised; you can blank your phone with a mouse click.

Presumably the location tracker is for that, because in all the years I've owned an iphone the targeted ads and marketing that privacy campaigners are fussed about have never appeared on either of my devices.

Privacy is as privacy does. I see the criticism that the tracking facility can cut both ways but who would take a tracking phone to a sensitive meeting, or even use a mobile phone to arrange anything confidential? Governments of various hues can be assumed to listen to all mobile communications. The existence of the NSA's giant eavesdropping computer called Echelon has been worrying the EU for years. Surely facial recognition software allied to CCTV is a much greater threat to the privacy and liberty of ordinary citizens than any number of iphones.

If I want to go off the Cupertino grid, I can turn the iphone off and dump it in the desk drawer. Sadly that doesn't apply to the many other cameras and computers that can now track us in our daily lives.

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