Apple Q&A on Location Data, Future iOS Update to ‘Fix’

While I am reading Apple’s Press Release website, I offer their official response to the iPhone tracking revelation: Apple – Press Info – Apple Q&A on Location Data. Short story: the supposed location data is a local cache of crowd-sourced location data that Apple uses to help your iPhone let you know where you are while providing Apple with additional information about location specific resources such as cell towers and wi-fi hotspots. With an update to iOS, you will be able to completely opt out of this by turning off Location Services, and for those of us who use Location Services, a future iOS update will stop backing up the cache and reduce its size.

A Look at iPhone Tracking Information

UPDATE: Wired Magazine covers why Apple is collecting this data here. Their reporting relies on Apple’s written response to congressional members here.

BoingBoing, Al Franken, and Slashdot (here and here–the latter says don’t panic and here–Android does it too) have all rang the alarum bells over Apple’s iOS 4’s storing information about where owner’s go while carrying their mobile devices. That information is stored on your iPhone and your computer (when the iPhone is connected to the computer for updates or syncing). Apparently, Apple has not used this information for any purpose yet, but the question stands: “Why collect this kind of personal information?”

Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden created an open source program that graphically demonstrates the information that iOS collects on the iPhone, albeit at lower resolution than what is actually stored in the database file. Their iPhone Tracker application can be downloaded from here. I used this app to generate the image above of my own movements since I installed iOS 4 on my iPhone 3GS. It looks pretty accurate to me–conferencing, vacationing, and schooling are all there.

My suspicion mirrors others that I have read that this could be a feature for a future release of iOS, but Apple wanted the data accumulated so that the feature would be immediately useful. However, I wonder: could this data collection be related to the MobileMe iPhone tracking service? Could location information be stored on the phone and retrieved when needed? If this is the case, why is it always collecting data? Does this make it easier or more assured that Apple can obtain information on a phone’s whereabouts without also have to remotely switching this data collection on? Whatever the reason, Apple will have to respond to the outcry since folks tend to not like being followed in a sense. However, The New York Times has already gone on record that cell phone companies track our movements anyways, but that didn’t seem to get the same level of attention that the iPhone issue did. I suppose that the difference is that we can see what the iPhone does, but we cannot see what cell phone companies do with the data that they collect of each of us who use and carry their phones. Personally, I am more concerned about the cell phone companies than the iPhone’s geo-data collection, but both are dubious rights issues that must be dealt with as this technology is further integrated into our lives and daily practices.

Arthur W. Hoppe’s Prophetic Warning on iPhones and PDAs: “Put Your Brains in Your Pocket”

I wanted to share this bit of research that I discovered today.

In his short essay, “Put Your Brains in Your Pocket,” Arthur W. Hoppe takes the development in Berkeley, California in the early 1970s to purchase calculators for young children. The idea was that the calculators would equalize the opportunities of students, because calculator technology enabled students good and poor at math to correctly answer basic mathematical problems. Hoppe extrapolates this with a fictitious and humorous account of a Dr. Wolfgang von Houlihan who developed a pocket-sized device that helped his son live as an intelligent and capable individual until his wife sent his trousers to the cleaners. Hoppe is concerned that “a pocket computer with a miniaturized memory bank capable of storing billions of facts and the ability not only to multiply but to analyze, deduce, and program solutions to every conceivable problem” (23-24), would result in people relying on such technology. This shift would not only be dangerous if something happened to one’s pocket-sized mind, but he worries that it would erode basic human emotions and the ability to communicate those emotions without the aid of our personal computing devices. It seems clear now that our technology changes us as we change our technology. As Mazlish argues, humanity and technology co-evolve. This is not something that we should necessarily fear or be concerned about, as long as we, today, consider and reflect on the changes that take place as a result of our rapidly accelerating technological advances. Shifts in technological advancement and integration into our daily lives seem inevitable, but there is no reason that we should accept these changes without care and deliberation. We should also remember that technologies address certain needs or wants by people. Technologies are tools that help us do the work (in a general sense) that we need and want to do. If iPhones, Wolfram Alpha, and Wikipedia help us do these things, then there is no reason to march them off a cliff with the Luddites.

Hoppe, Arthur W. “Put Your Brains in Your Pocket.” Computers, Computers, Computers: In Fiction and Verse. Ed. D. Van Tassel. New York: Thomas Nelson, 1977. 23-25. Print.

Blogging from my iPhone 3GS

I haven’t updated the operating system of my iPhone yet, but I thought that I would arrange my home screen to be like my iPad. However, this made me realize just how differently I use my iPhone and iPad. I have different apps on each device and the organization of those different apps requires a different folder structure. The differences aren’t gigantic but they are subtle. For example, I only use the eBay app on my iPad but I have several different shopping apps on my iPhone. I suppose one of the reasons for this is that I use 3G net access to browse for deals when I have an idle moment or while shopping in brick and mortar stores. I rarely shop on the iPad besides researching collectible Star Wars toys on eBay. I primarily use the iPad for reading books and articles with iBooks, comic zeal, Goodreads, and Stanza. I also carry my lesson plans and lecture notes to class on my iPad. Therefore, I use these slightly different devices for different roles in my everyday life primarily due to physical size, screen size and Internet connectivity. I will write more on this later from my MacBook’s keyboard interface instead of this index finger typing input method on the iPhone. Blogging from an iPhone is an equally interesting experience as blogging from an iPad. I must do more of each!