By now everyone has heard that Apple has a hidden file with a year’s worth of location information. Internet privacy is an issue that freaks people out, and one that members of Congress love to pursue. Even the South Park writers of satirical social commentary know a hot button issue when they see it.
A bit of background for those with short memories about Trackgate: Around April 20th, two researchers announced that a file on the iPhone and iPad 3G which keeps track of everywhere a user has been. The devices scan for nearby cell towers to gather location data. The data is kept on the devices and copied over to your computer when you sync the mobile device with iTunes on a laptop or desktop computer. The data is unencrypted, so anyone with access to your computer or mobile device can get the information. The iPhone tracker application developed by the researchers can be downloaded from here.
Very soon other researchers discovered that phones based on Android, the mobile operating system made by Google, also track user location. Google put out a statement saying that their phones don’t track users unless users “opt-in,” and, furthermore, “Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user.”
It took Apple a week to figure out how to officially say, ‘we are really good guys’. Two days before Apple found their voice, US Senator Al Franken, Chairman of the Privacy, Technology, and Law Subcommittee, announced he was having hearings about tracking user locations. Franken “invited” Apple and Google to testify.
Apple said in part: “This data is not the iPhone’s location data – it is a subset (cache) of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database which is downloaded from Apple into the iPhone to assist the iPhone in rapidly and accurately calculating location. The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly. We don’t think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data.”
The day after this announcement, both Apple and Google agreed to send representatives to the May 10th hearing. They will be joining officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC); Ashkan Soltani, independent privacy researcher and consultant; and Justin Brookman, Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Project on Consumer Privacy.
This should be a real Congressional Kabuki Show. Kabuki is known for its very stylized acting and the elaborate makeup worn by the actors. With the Google and Apple representatives from laid-back Silicon Valley all dressed in expensive suits and ties that should qualify as elaborate makeup. Their answers to the Senator’s pointed questions will be styled speak such as in George Orwells’ novel 1984.
First, a warning that the latest South Park episode contains their usual adult language and adult graphical images. Now to the fun part of this drama. South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are widely known for their satirical approach to popular culture. For the first episode of its fifteenth year, South Park built a very humorous cartoon around Apple’s iPhone tracking users and the End-User License Agreement (EULA).
The EULA is what you click on before downloading an application. Have you ever read one line by line? Every EULA says what you can and cannot do with an application. A group of attorneys create an EULA and that means unless you are a software attorney, the agreement can take advantage of you.
Over the past fifteen years South Park’s Stone and Parker have featured episodes about Facebook, Bill Gates, the Internet, and the movie Tron. Episode number 147 parodied the online role-playing game World of Warcraft. Several of our grandmother aged friends, who are avid WoW fans, reminded us that the 2007 show won an Emmy award for the Make Love Not Warcraft episode. Make Love Not Warcraft was created with the support of World of Warcraft developer Blizzard.
During the latest fifteen minute episode, South Park’s resident misanthrope Eric Cartman berates his mother for not buying him the latest, most expensive Apple iPad. His bad mouth tantrum shows how far away from reality many fan boys get when they can’t have the newest stuff. If you have ever worked in a retail computer store, you have probably seen Cartman’s alter ego making similar demands.
To show the problems with a EULA, South Park’s eternal 4th grader, Kyle Broflovski, is chosen to take part in the experiment after he carelessly clicks on “I agree” without reading the new iTunes terms and conditions. The results are outlandish and borderline obscene and far too adult for a family publication like BSN*. This link will get you there in a single click.
Being able to track a phone number is very helpful for security and for emergency purposes. They can be used to find a mobile phone that has been lost. Once a tracking service feature is turned on, anyone who knows the number can gain access to track the owner. This can alternately lead to stalking issues and might also lead to crime.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed a “Do Not Track” list (PDF Download) that Internet users can elect to be placed on, similar to the landmark 2004 “Do Not Call” registry. Congresswoman Jackie Speier authored the new Do Not Track Me Online Act of 2011.
Original Author: John Oram
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