That smartphone tracking thing

I’ve probably mentioned before that as far as phone apps go I feel that the absolute best app ever is the Talking To People Far Away Without A Landline app, which has been around since the days when mobile phones were actually called car phones because they were so big you needed a fucking car to cart the bloody thing around. I’m happy that the march of progress has shrunk things to a more convenient pocket size, improved the battery life and generally made it able to do more things. Mine plays a game about a snake that gets longer as it eats, which is a feature that I’m immensely indifferent about and only one of literally some features that the phone came with and which I never, ever use. But that Talking To People Far Away Without A Landline one is so good that when the phone eventually carks it I will be demanding that its replacement can do the same thing. Text messages are occasionally handy so I’d quite like the new one to do those too.

Clearly then the smartphones tracking their owners thing is an issue that has largely passed me by. Yes, I know that if they really want to the powers that be can get a rough idea of where my old ‘dumb’ phone is, and therefore where I am too, but I feel it’s pretty clear that smartphones are likely to make the job that much easier. More accurate too if they’re GPS enabled, which I believe most are, and sneakily programmed to report on their whereabouts to 10m from time to time, which they’re probably not but potentially could be at any time by way of an OS update or something. And you just know that the sneaky bastards have probably covered themselves with a clause in the EULA that almost everybody overlooked because they were too keen to get the wrapping off and play with the new shiny to read 49 paragraphs of impenetrable small print. My feeling is that if this is objectionable then a smartphone is probably not for you, and if you’re concerned even at the possibility for being tracked anyway then buy a second hand dumb phone and turn it off most of the time or do without one altogether. If you bought one anyway and now don’t like it because it spies on you I will buy it off you. I’m prepared to go all the way up to five dollars, which I realise is a shit price but it’s about what the thing is worth to me personally.* Someone else will probably give you a lot more if you’re wanting to get rid of it.

So not being a smartphone user (I LOLed at Max Farquar’s ‘spyPhone’ video but to me it’s always been more whyPhone) it never occurred to me that this tracking and data logging might actually be there as a consequence of some users wanting their smartphones to be able to do dumb things (en bloc from the von Mises blog)

My initial reaction to the alarmist news that the iPhone collects (but doesn’t use unless you tell it to) information about your whereabouts is: no kidding. I mean, people WANT their iPhones to do this so that they can use them as GPSs and so that they can update their status on FB with a “check in.” It’s not my thing but it is what people want to do. There is probably good reason to make that information more secure but truly this is not a flaw but a feature, and generally a response to customer demand. In any case, it is not the case that Steve Jobs knows the location of all the opium dens you have been visiting and plans to blackmail you with that information.

A final note: 10 years ago, the idea that you could hold in your palm a device that would reveal your precise whereabouts and also permit you to broadcast this in an instant to millions of people of your own choosing would have seemed like impossible science fiction. Now that we have it, the punditry class screams in outrage.

Unsurprisingly some of the comments say that this is downplaying the issue but I think there’s a good point being made here. I don’t get the appeal of social networking either (anti-social networking, now that might interest me) and most of the features look like solutions desperately looking for problems, but I can see that there are people who do want their phones to automatically let their friends know where they are. God knows why you’d want this because if my Facebook account is any guide nearly all your friends will be people you’ve never met or even heard of, and in any case how hard is it to just tell the handful you really do know that you’re going to the pub if anyone wants to meet you for a beer? You’ve got a fucking telephone right in your hand, for Christ’s sake! I don’t understand it but then the appeal of soap operas are a mystery to me as well, yet I’m prepared to accept that lots of people do actually want their minds melted by whatever implausible thing has happened in Summer Bay today. That’s supply and demand and people are currently demanding that their phones do as much of their live’s heavy lifting as possible, which is why you’ve got services like Foursquare and Google Places being launched. People really are signing up for this shit so inevitably the phones have to have the capability, right?

That being so is it really so much of a shock that companies are looking at using this info to make a quid by sending targeted and location specific advertising at the users? Not like nobody saw this coming, is it?

Extra irony points for all the personalised advertising going on in a movie scene bagging personalised advertising


Irritating? Yep. Creepy? Potentially. Worrying? Well, when you can vote with your feet and sell your phone (seriously, I am good for five dollars for a used iPhone) or not buy one to start with unless they come without all that extra crap that the media is currently busy scaresturbating itself into a frenzy over, I’d say it’s not all that worrying. Especially when it turns out that while it is enabled by default, which is annoying but since hardly anyone would enable it voluntarily it’s also exactly what nearly all of us would do if we were in the same position, you can still actually turn it off. You won’t read that in the Mainly Fail smartphone spying scare stories, but then they’re trying to make a quid selling advertising too and leading an article about it with the solution to the problem is no more in their business interests than making a phone which allows personalised ads but has them disabled by default.

It’s not a conspiracy, folks. It’s just a reminder that the free market ain’t perfect, it’s just free.

* If it’s an iPad I’ll pay $4.50. 

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Posted on April 26, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on That smartphone tracking thing.

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