4/27/11

Track You Down? Yeah, We Have an AP for that

Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) have been accused of collecting and storing user information, including location data. Lawsuits are on the way while politicians and attorneys general demand answers.

 While Apple has so far remained mum on the matter, it's been reported that an Apple engineer filed a patent application entitled "Location Histories for Location Aware Devices," which describes some of the uses of collecting location data. These include transmitting location information over the internet, creating a searchable map that shows the user's location history, and tying location data to financial transactions. So iPhones storing the data is probably not a bug.

If you are interested in reading the patent application, you can find it here (or here if you have Quicktime installed).

Remember that 1984 commercial? Who's big brother now?

I'm glad that this has finally captured the public's attention, but cellphones have been tracking our locations for a long time. For instance, from the NY Times:
Mr. Spitz went to court to find out exactly what his cellphone company, Deutsche Telekom, knew about his whereabouts.
The results were astounding. In a six-month period — from Aug 31, 2009, to Feb. 28, 2010, Deutsche Telekom had recorded and saved his longitude and latitude coordinates more than 35,000 times. It traced him from a train on the way to Erlangen at the start through to that last night, when he was home in Berlin.
The police seem to be enjoying all the data that cellphones collect, downloading it during traffic stops.

For at least five years now, the authorities have been able to remotely activate a cellphone's microphone in what is called "a roving bug," allowing them to eavesdrop on people whose phones aren't in use. It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but according to ZDNet
Nextel cell phones owned by two alleged mobsters, John Ardito and his attorney Peter Peluso, were used by the FBI to listen in on nearby conversations.
 It's time for the industry (or congress, as a second best choice) to develop comprehensive privacy rules for the digital age. The more protections, the better. People should at least be able to opt out of having their data collected, and the police should be prevented from accessing information stored on electronic devices without first obtaining a warrant. Not only does it concern privacy (not too long ago considered a basic right), it is also a security issue.