Tag Archives: Apple

An iPhone tragedy

My iPhone 3GS had a little accident today: after nearly two years of faithful service (without a case), some spilt milk in the dairy aisle of Tesco caused a comedy slip (and juggle) which resulted in the following:

Broken iPhone

While it was most likely excellent viewing on CCTV, we’ll see what Tesco say tomorrow…

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Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

As I’m sure you are all aware from the avalanche of media attention, Steve Jobs passed away on the 5th October 2011, after stepping down from his role as CEO of Apple in August; he was 56 years old.

There have been numerous extensive obituaries for Jobs, who is widely regarded as one of the most visionary and disruptive technologists the world has seen. Whether or not you appreciate the products he designed, or the socio-technical philosophy he promulgated, it is hard to deny the impact he has had on commercial computing and how we use technology.

While much of the media focus has been on his achievements during his second spell as Apple’s CEO, I think his contributions in the late 1970s (with Steve Wozniak) and 1980s are of more significance to modern computing; for example, the Apple II, the Apple Lisa, the Macintosh, NeXT and Pixar. (N.B. if you interested in the history of modern computing, especially in the 1980s, I highly recommend Steven Levy‘s book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution)

With the notoriously outspoken free software pioneer Richard Stallman being quick to offer his opinion on Jobs’ death (which was widely regarded as being in poor taste), there have also been a number of interesting discussions critically analysing Jobs’ and Apple’s wider impact on technology and society. Nevertheless, I still think we need people who Think Different:

Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

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Location, location, location

The widely-reported furore over location tracking in smartphones (first with the iPhone, then with the Android platform) has yet again highlighted the apparent contradiction between certain people’s constant need to publicise what they are doing and where they are doing it, whilst also maintaining the absolute right to privacy throughout.

I find this rather strange. Perhaps being a technology geek, I am very much aware of the technical infrastructure (and constant stream of personal data) required to support the services that we use every day. I therefore make a conscious and informed choice when I allow these services to access my information or publish my location. In fact, I am happy to publish my iPhone location data below, as I am aware of the perceived risks:

Tom Crick's iPhone data -- I've been a busy boy

But with Apple today finally breaking radio silence and clarifying how and why they are storing the geo-tagged Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data, it all boils down to this: it’s a bug.

Hmmmmm. Being a computer scientist, I have written a fair amount of buggy code in my time, but it is rare when it prompts the question “feature or bug?“. Normally, I would ascribe things like this to cock-up before conspiracy, but it is seems more likely to be about potential revenue generation rather than anything more sinister such as government tracking (as I would question the value of timestamped location data from inaccurate cell tower data).

I think that being able to access my own data is pretty cool, but the collection process should be more explicit and transparent to all types of users: clearly explained and not buried in the 15,200 word iTunes terms and conditions. You should also be able to easily purge the data and it should (at the very least) be encrypted/hashed. You can encrypt your iPhone backup, but this option is not enabled by default.

So, does Apple apologising for forgetting to set an expiry on your data that it collects resolve the issue? Not really. This is a worrying trend from companies such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, et al., who are acting as if personal data is a resource that can be harvested at will. Of course you are free to not use their products or services, but it is vital for this data collection to be open and explicitly opt-in. After recent events, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple receive a number of Subject Access Requests over the coming weeks in the UK. A positive outcome from all of this would be a wider public debate on the storage and use of personal data.

FYI: your smartphone already knows more about you then you may think.

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