When I first read that Apple’s iPhone and 3G iPad was logging users’ location data to a hidden file I thought it was an obscure piece of news that would be confined to the tech blogs such as Ars Technica or engagdet. The fact that it’s been picked up by the New York Times (I even heard it on the BBC world report this morning) shows how wary people are of technology encroaching on their lives. Not all technology. Just the creepy parts that your merchant doesn’t tell you about. Indeed, news media attempts to get comments from Apple haven’t gone far, and the company itself hasn’t released a statement yet.
I believe consumers aren’t freaked out by the fact that technology can do things they once saw from Minority Report (e.g. Microsoft Kinect; has someone figured out a way to hack it to prevent future crimes?). I think people are creeped out by things going on on their devices that they don’t know. If Apple disclosed the fact that the iPhone and 3G iPad logged location data even when it doesn’t ask for GPS locationing and their reason for doing so, their users would be more at ease than such news coming from two random researchers. If Apple went further to allow users easy access to this file, told them it was just to make their UX better or get better X or Y, encrypted the file, and said the file would exist only locally and wouldn’t be transmitted elsewhere, I think users wouldn’t have minded that much.
I guess the takeaway is that today’s tech companies’ multitude of awkward media exposures have demonstrated they must be more open and respecting of individual privacy. In order to retain customer loyalty, they have to demonstrate that they have their best interests at heart and that there’s nothing shady going on underneath the hood. Not a lot of tech companies have done a stellar job. Even the company who’s professed motto is “Don’t be evil” has seen its share of snafus.
If you have an iPhone or 3G iPad, you should download this open source iPhoneTracker app that plots on a map exactly what your device has been tracking.