Friday, 22 April 2011

iPhone tracks movements. Shock horror. NOT !

You've just got to love how much some people have turned the iPhone vs other operating systems (there are some) debate into a story laced with fever pitched paranoia.

I am referring to the reaction to the unsurprising revelation that the Iphone (and the iPad and iPod touch) store date that records where it has been, and that this information can be accessed from the phone (if you know where to look).

It's not so much the obviously opinion led reporting (and perhaps this blog is no different, but I never pretended to be a neutral observer of anything - I have my opinions, that's rather the point of this exercise). What I find really disappointing is the comments on such news-sites where the story has been reported.

Seriously people, should it really be a shock that something that allows you to make a telephone call from anywhere there is sufficient mobile phone signal actually needs to record somewhere it's relationship with the mobile network's broadcast towers ? Really ? How did you think the system worked ? String between two tin-cans ? Fairy dust ? NEWSFLASH ! If the signal to and from your phone (and indeed anything else that transmits or receives ANYTHING) makes it to and from your phone, it stands to reason that somewhere along the line, if you pardon the pun, the location of your device knowing where it is, is going to be key to maintaining that connection. Simples.

The whole 1984 lobby want to bleat on about how positively Orwellian the iphone is, and how evil and twisted Apple are for putting something like this on their phones. Well, before all those shallow and rather thick people start turning their phones off in a panic (probably better they do that anyway, just to give them less ways to bother the rest of the planet, moe than anything else) this information has pretty much always been around on the device, it's just that Apple recently moved it to a more easily accessible location on the phone. It's always been there.

Then there's the lot that scream it is Apple in particular that are evil for making this dreadful thing possible. But don't all phones / devices that allow 'geotagging' or any other similar function needing to do that very same thing ? Truth is I don't think this technology is anything new, or unique. There are things stored on or by all of our devices that leave mucky little trails of what we've been up to. My advise ? If you're that bothered then either find a way to disable these functions or don't get a mobile phone, computer or even telephone for that matter.
If we want to be connected, we need to be.. er, well, connected. It really is such a non story, that I just had to make more of it by moaning about it here as well. Pete Warden has written an application that takes this data from your phone and then shows you a lovely little map of where you (or at least your phone) has been. This is data that mobile phone companies would already have for example, based on your relationship geographically to one of their mobile phone masts (Cell Towers if you're an American).  Nothing new, scary or terribly accurate either. When I use google maps on my blackberry similar technology pinpoints roughly where I am, with an accuracy of 1400 meters. Not terribly useful to anyone really trying to track me down, unless they know exactly where I live or work, and in which case they'd just try those places anyway.

Is 'Big Brother' watching you ? No.
So, bearing in mind this sort of data has been around for years, the only change here is that it's available (without the need for a data protection act request, or court order) to the person whom the data pertains to . I'd call that progress rather than snooping. No one is doing anything else with this data, why would they ? Sure there are all sorts of things that COULD be done with it, but why, oh why, oh why, would anyone want to ? Only if you are a person of some sort of specific interest, engaged in some sort of criminal activity would this be useful to the 'powers that be'. Of course, in order to get it in this country they'd need a court order or warrant. Personally I'd hope that our security services are using tracking methods a little more sophisticated, reliable and accurate to track down would be terrorists than their own iphones. I'm sure that functions like this are used by law enforcement agencies across the globe, but this again is nothing new at all. Often if someone goes missing the police will have asked the mobile phone company for the location of their last call etc. Besides, if 'big brother' really could be bothered to look in detail at all the data that we throw on the internet about ourselves anyway they'd learn so much more about us. I'm also struck by the sheer illogical nature of the thought that the vast majority of people are interesting enough to warrant such attention, or indeed that any government is organised enough to do such a thing.

Maybe this is the way to solve unemployment ? Pay people to just sit there looking at Facebook or Twitter and applications such as this to track the whereabouts of every citizen in the UK.

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