An increasing percentage of Western society is carrying a computer with them, everyday, that is enabled with geo-locative technology. We call them smartphones, and they’re cherished pieces of technology. While people are (sub)consciously aware of this love-towards-technology, they’re less aware of how these devices are compromising their privacy, and that’s the topic of this post.
Recent reports on the state of the iPhone operating system show us that the device’s APIs permit incredibly intrusive surveillance of personal behaviour and actions. I’ll be walking through those reports and then writing somewhat more broadly about the importance of understanding how APIs function if scrutiny of phones, social networks, and so forth is to be meaningful. Further, I’ll argue that privacy policies – while potentially useful for covering companies’ legal backends – are less helpful in actually educating end-users about a corporate privacy ethos. These policies, as a result, need to be written in a more accessible format, which may include a statement of privacy ethics that is baked into a three-stage privacy statement.
iOS devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV 2.0, and iPod touch, have Unique Device Identifiers (UDIDs) that can be used to discretely track how customers use applications associated with the device. A recent technical report, written by Eric Smith of PSKL, has shed light into how developers can access a device UDID and correlate it with personally identifiable information. UDIDs are, in effect, serial numbers that are accessible by software. Many of the issues surrounding the UDID are arguably similar to those around the Pentium III’s serial codes (codes which raised the wrath of the privacy community and were quickly discontinued. Report on PIII privacy concerns is available here).
I’ve exclusively used Bluetooth devices to connect to my docked MacBook Pro for many, many months. It’s been a blissful period of time…one that came to a crashing halt this morning. After spending an aggravating period of time getting things working, I wanted to share with the Internet broadly (one) solution to getting both an Apple Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard and Magic Mouse (re)paired with OS X. I will note that I first ‘lost’ my Magic Mouse, and after a restart of my computer subsequently was unable to pair my Apple Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard.
After months of blissful Bluetooth connectivity, I’ve awoken to discover that neither my Magic Mouse nor my Apple Bluetooth Keyboard are properly pairing. First my Magic Mouse failed to scroll, which led me to remove the Magic Mouse and attempt to pair it to my computer again. This attempt failed. I then rebooted my computer, and was still unable to pair my computer and Magic Mouse. After another restart, my Apple Bluetooth Keyboard was also unable to be be used as an input device with my computer. It is important to note that, while the Bluetooth Device Manager reported this failure to pair, both devices are reported as ‘connected’ under the Bluetooth icon in the OX X menu bar. Neither device, at this point, is responding to any input.
I pre-ordered the iPad as soon as I could and unpacked it the day that I returned from a trip to South America (that saw me miss its actual delivery). I’ve had the device for over a month now, have been actively using it, and wanted to offer my impressions. Those impressions, I will note, are significantly conditioned by the reasons that I bought the device, which I’ll outline. I’ll first briefly address the actual hardware and operating system of the device, then move to what I like and dislike about the product. Ultimately, I’m happy with the device and have absolutely no regrets in getting this particular first-gen Apple product.
The screen, ergonomics, and weight are all fine. It’s using an IPS-LCD, which means that viewing angles are good and colour reproduction is pretty faithful. While some have criticized the back for being slightly rounded, it hasn’t bothered me in any way, nor has the weight of 1.5lbs struck me as ‘heavy’ though the device is heavier than appearances might lead one to believe. There is a bezel surrounding the screen itself and it makes sense: I can rest my hands on the non-interactive bezel without affecting whatever I’m displaying on the screen. This is a good thing. the iPad has the same touch interface as the iPhone and iPod Touch. This makes the iPad simple to use, if lacking any deviant features from those earlier devices (and, with the release of iOS 4, the iPad actually has slightly fewer features than the iPhone or Touch). In light of its use of the older 3.2 release of the OS, the iPad is horrible if you rely on multiple windows being open to get work done and is a poor choice for any content producer looking to do a lot of work on it that will see you flipping between a document/content production editor and the web. In effect, anyone who’s tried doing intensive content production on the iPhone or Touch will largely encounter the same old problems here. I’m not saying that you can’t do such production, but it’s far less convenient than on a full desktop/notebook or even netbook. On the upside: the device is light and battery life is good (I tend to go for 36-72 hours without needing to plug in, with moderate to heavy use each day).
Apple’s entrance into the mobile advertising marketplace was born with their announcement of iAd. Alongside iAd comes persistent locational surveillance of Apple’s customers for the advantage of advertisers and Apple. The company’s advertising platform is controversial because Apple gives it a privileged position in their operating system, iOS4, and because the platform can draw on an iPhone’s locational awareness (using the phone’s GPS functionality) to deliver up targeted ads.
In this post I’m going to first give a brief background on iAd and some of the broader issues surrounding Apple’s deployment of their advertising platform. From there, I want to recap what Steve Jobs stated in a recent interview at the All Things Digital 8 concerning how Apple approaches locational surveillance through their mobile devices and then launch into an analysis of Apple’s recently changed terms of service for iOS4 devices as it relates to collecting, sharing, and retaining records on an iPhone’s geographic location. I’ll finish by noting that Apple may have inadvertently gotten itself into serious trouble as a result of its heavy-handed control of the iAd environment combined with modifying the privacy-related elements of their terms of service: Apple seems to have awoken the German data protection authorities. Hopefully the Germans can bring some transparency to a company regularly cloaked in secrecy.
Apple launched the iAd beta earlier this year and integrates the advertising platform into their mobile environment such that ads are seen within applications, and clicking on ads avoids taking individuals out of the particular applications that the customers are using. iAds can access core iOS4 functionality, including locational information, and can be coded using HTML 5 to provide rich advertising experiences. iAd was only made possible following Apple’s January acquisition of Quattro, a mobile advertising agency. Quattro was purchased after Apple was previously foiled in acquiring AdMob by Google last year (with the FTC recently citing iAd as a contributing reason why the Google transaction was permitted to go through). Ostensibly, the rich advertising from iAds is intended to help developers produce cheap and free applications for Apple’s mobile devices while retaining a long-term, ad-based, revenue stream. Arguably, with Apple taking a 40% cut of all advertising revenue and limiting access to the largest rich-media mobile platform in the world, advertising makes sense for their own bottom line and its just nice that they can ‘help’ developers along the way… Continue reading
Skype is a polarizing product for telecom operators and customers. It is an application that lets customers abandon their historical phone services in favour of an encrypted Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications service that provides ‘free’ calls to computers and cheap rates when making a Skype-to-analogue/cellular phone service. For customers, it extends the choices presented to them and potentially reduces their monthly phone expenses.
The iPhone application for Skype has made headlines as telecom and smartphone manufacturers alike have actively and passively resisted, and ultimately relented, to permitting customers make Skype calls from their iPhones and other mobile devices. Apple has stated that they will not ‘jump through hoops’ to ensure that VoIP applications work through successive operating system updates, and AT&T’s poor data transmission systems likely made them somewhat hesitant to allow another bandwidth-heavy service onto their networks. What really got me interested in the Skype iPhone application, as a Canadian, was the following:
- Canadian customers can now install Skype on their iPhones;
- There was no place on the web that informed Skype users of how much data was consumed by the iPhone application when in use.
It was #2 that was particularly interesting. Canadian consumers tend to have fairly low default bandwidth caps with Rogers, the primary carrier of the iPhone in Canada, at 1GB in the basic iPhone plan. My thought was this: if the iPhone application actually consumed massive amounts of data Rogers would:
- Make a killing on the likely data overages as early adopters shifted over to Skype VoIP in favour of Rogers’ own voice services;
- If the application actually consumed a large amount of bandwidth, carriers might see it as ‘technically’ needing to be mediated using some system (perhaps deep packet inspection).
I started putting out feelers, and no one knew how much data the application consumed. Rogers claimed they didn’t know, nor did Apple. A contact on Twitter who worked as customer relations for Skype also doesn’t know the amount of data used, and the information was nowhere (that I could find) on the English-written web. Similarly, my international contacts were uncertain about data requirements. Fortunately, after an extended wait, I’ve finally received word from Skype’s customer service desks (my last ditch effort was to submit a support ticket). Here is how the relevant part of the email reads:
When something ‘just works’ 99.9% of the time, that .1% of downtime is particularly frustrating. This is what I recently experienced with my Time Capsule networking fiasco, and was paralleled by another problem stemming from an Apple firmware update.
The new MacBook Pros were shipped with their SATA II data speeds crippled; they were limited to 1.5Gps rather than the SATA II 3.0Gbps standardized speed. While this had no real effect for HDD users, it did affect SSD users – SSD is capable of taking advantage of the SATA II spec, and so SSD users rightly complained.
Apple heard these complaints, and released a firmware update for the MacBook Pro line; they warned that the update might not work with non-stock drives (!) but that it would restore SATA II speeds. I decided to update the firmware, just because having an up-to-date system is a good idea. This is right-minded thinking, right?