As important as privacy is touted in the public consciousness, it seems to have almost no currency in the practical sense. With the rising tides of Tea Party conservatives arguing with the mythology of "big government," they fail to see that unregulated corporate industry is actually going to be the personal invader of the 21st century. One of Apple's newest additions to its iOS terms of agreement for the iPhone 4 update reads like the Patriot Act of personal computing. Now that their location related services are injecting themselves into almost every aspect of app life, especially with the location services being tied to photo and video through your iCamera, it is easy to see how even the briefest mention of this clause will turn a few heads.
"To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services." – From the iOS 4 Software License
What this reads as is exactly what it is: the blanket allowance for Apple to do what it wants with your location information. With the iPhone's GPS features you have the incredible ability to find almost anything, locate yourself in the lost collage of modern urbania, and employ a new personalized aspect to more than a few iPhone apps. It also has the ability to turn your iPhone into a homing device with the ability to track you down within a few footsteps.
The language that is used in this piece is interesting in that it states that the purpose of this is to "improve location-based products and services." The excuse of commercial "improvement" has often been used by companies looking for invasive ways to market to you in the most personal of fashions. The ability to track the general movement of an individual has been touted by many in the advertising industry as the the wave of the future in that it can predict shopping trends and very specific personal characteristics. This invasion of privacy could then be used to manufacture a sense of commercial consent where the most fundamental aspects of our nature are being force fed back to us through new age branding.
Apple does continue to claim that this location information is to remain anonymous, yet this is a fallacy that should not be believed given the actual technology in play. To track these movements you must do so with an identification number that is traced right back to you. This personalizes your movements to the advertisers this information will likely be distributed to, not to mention the possibility of government agencies on subpoena. Even if this was true the information that would be interpreted by commercial entities would still violate your independence as it would be used to track specific behaviors in an effort to sell you products.
Beyond the obvious aspects of being co-opted by an increasingly commercial sphere there is a general lack of privacy that can leave iPhone users vulnerable in a variety of capacities. Many Google users have recently felt the fear of having their searches used against them in a legal capacity, and this was only a more recent example of a mining of personal information that has been increasing over the last twenty years in response to technological developments that would allow it to do so. Any technology that fundamentally allows a complete and systematic violation of your privacy can and will be used by dominant institutions in ways that you have not approved of. In this way Apple is allowing for an undemocratic appropriation of your personal information and this should not be taken lying down.
Many in this debate have argued that a lack of transparency in this logging of location points is what is primarily of importance here, and that is true in many ways. Where this fails to meet the real problem presented by Apple is that it is a privately held company with no true accountability to the public good. In this way its transparency, even if offered by Apple, cannot be enforced, will not have any outside regulatory standards to it, and will be set on their own terms. Instead of simply allowing for this invasion of privacy with a token amount of transparency that comes with informing us about what kind use our information is going to we should be making a stand against this kind of data mining in the financial sphere.
Though this kind of Big Brother activity should make us uncomfortable no matter where it is coming from, it becomes somehow even more unseemly when it comes from a giant multi-national like Apple who's legal liability is to share holders and not to the values of the people who use and are affected by its products.
If you prefer your iPhone, as most users do, then you really are not presented with a choice as to whether or not you are upgrading to the iOS 4.
This is the box users are placed into, and if they want to object to this kind of cataloguing then they are likely going to have to downgrade down to a Nokia brick from a decade ago. What we should look to in the future is a concerted and organized push against the use of these technologies to track us and turn us into corporate research nodes. If we put pressure on these companies and democratic agencies to monitor and regulate them we can actually alter the way that smart phones are designed and implemented in the future.