Friday, April 22, 2011

The Marriage of Indiscretion and Ambition

Picture a dark alleyway. Suddenly: yelling, a scuffle, a man is grabbed off the street. In the confusion the cellphone he carries falls unheeded to the ground. A van peals off, its unwilling passenger securely gagged in the back. The alleyway is silent again. Moments later, a man in a dark trench walks over to the fallen phone, picks it up - almost as if he knew exactly where it would be - and tosses it lightly hand to hand, smiling. He turns and stalks into the darkness.

A story has recently broken (or, well re-broken, since it was originally noticed September of 2010 by Paul Courbis) that the iPhone and iPad track their movements, in the form of a hidden encrypted file detailing latitude, longitude, and timestamp. The usual tinfoil-hat-wearing crowd has risked the deadly omega waves broadcast by their monitors to post comments about the corporate big brother using their whereabouts for nefarious purposes.

Hilariously, Apple users were already warned about the data collection in their terms and conditions where they say they may collect, use, and store location information including real-time geographic information. It reassures readers that it is collected and used anonymously, but this becomes most interesting when considered in concert with  Bill C-52, which I have groused about previously, that gives police the right to demand this information. This is the other half to the puzzle piece: the collection of such information as may be useful to the police. Bill C -52 is currently stalled with the House of Commons at its first reading, but when Parliament starts up again I'll be interested in watching the votes.

There is apparently, short of turning the device off, no way to disable this feature, since it continues its activities even while the GPS is turned off. But few people wander around with their cells turned off; well, until now anyway.

True, this has not been used in court, but the system has only been in place since June 2010, when the apple iOS 4 update wheedled its way down the pipes. I would predict a glut of cases involving this file hitting the courts for a while, until people either learn to turn it off before they commit crimes, or find a way to convincingly argue that their phone was not in their possession at the time.

Personally, I'm just waiting for the day when it becomes illegal to lend out your phone or the phone requires a spit sample to operate.

For now, of course, the information will likely be used for the most noble of its original purposes: commercial marketing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If I may borrow your paranoid pants for a moment, there are some companies whose corporate mentality reminds me of Skynet: Apple and Sony being the prime examples.
Who the bleep does Apple they think they are, that it would be OK for them to keep track of my whereabouts?
Unbelievable and I can only hope it ends in hubris.
lol, mapa