Rethinking Privacy in a Smartphone World

by Jeff Wiener on May 12, 2011

Last week I chimed in on the controversy surrounding the latent tracking ability of Apple’s iPhone, a program that recorded and saved both user location and usage information. When the mysterious program was discovered buried within Apple’s iOS 4 the world was outraged, leading to many frivolous lawsuits and lots of holier-than-though talk from competitors and regulators alike.

Now, buried underneath the torrent of news over Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype, the Redmond-based company has quietly announced that its Windows Phone will stop collecting unique user identifiers from its handsets; meaning that you’re WP7 anonymity is now assured.

But this has once again led me to contemplate a point I made in passing last week, location identification is what puts the ‘smart’ in smartphone, and while I understand that people are uncomfortable with the idea of a faceless corporation knowing their whereabouts, I’m sure they are conversely comfortable with the personalized features their smartphones deliver to them every day…meaning that perhaps users can’t have their cake and eat it too.

Now don’t get me wrong, the modern smartphone can operate just fine without the need of unique handset identifiers that would give away a user’s specific location and usage. Generalized location tracking allows the phones to provide user specific data, such as weather, news, sports, or what have you, without needing to know exactly where that user is.

While that is the current reality of smartphone location based services, however, there’s no way it will stop there… and the fact is, users don’t want it to. As smartphones become smarter, more powerful, handheld computers, the reality is that users will want their smartphone to do many things without having to be told or pre-programmed, from tracking usage habits in order to present the user with a local restaurant serving his or her favourite foods, to helping streamline business operations.

It is this sort of technological intuition that the public increasingly demands and manufacturers continually strive for, which is to say, if you want to be able to seamlessly integrate technology into your life, your current notion of privacy will soon become like the horse-drawn carriage, a novelty both antiquated and obsolete.

In fact, as one of our writers here as mentioned previously, it doesn’t take much to imagine a future as illustrated in the Tom Cruise film, Minority Report, wherein advertisements are keyed directly to eye scan technology, making the ads extremely personalized.

Although the point of that film was that such technological dependence robs us of our humanity, making us beholden to our creations, I would imagine that some variation of that futuristic vision will certainly come true, with companies like Apple rumoured to already be working on advancements to its iAd software that would allow it to key on a user’s iPhone for location specific ads. We may not like to think about it, but that’s the future folks.

Now that’s not to say that we’re already beholden to our devices, although I continually have to remind myself not to become a slave to the devices meant to simplify my life, but as long as we demand our phones become ‘smarter,’ our traditional notions of privacy will always be at stake.

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Rethinking Privacy in a Smartphone World — TheTelecomBlog.com - Mobile Universe Online | Mobile Universe Online
May 12, 2011 at 8:33 am

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