Brian Hogan, 21, of Redwood City, California found a prototype Apple iPhone 4G accidentally left in a German Beer garden by a (soused?) Apple employee.
Hogan recognized the phone for what it was. He knew that any news of what Apple does is devoured more voraciously than a teenage girl’s diary found in a locker room by the cheerleading squad. Hogan sold the phone, probably illegally, to the website Gizmodo, a part of Gawker Media.
Jason Chen at Gizmodo blogged about the iPhone, to the shivering delight of fanboys everybody. We learned, among other things, that the next generation phone was “3 grams heavier.” Fascinating, no?
An explosion of debate hit the net. About whether Hogan was a thief or public servant (thief), about whether Gawker should have paid or immediately returned the phone to Apple (they should have returned), whether Chen was an unethical journalist or ethical one (unethical), even whether Chen is a real journalist or “just a blogger” (real journalist).
None of this debate is of more than transitory interest. Missing almost completely from the many analyses was the most important fact of all.
When Apple discovered the loss of the phone, it remotely “wiped” out its contents, so that those contents, of course, could not be readable by the likes of technicians at Gizmodo.
At best, there was a resigned sigh over this remote wipe out. Just think of the delicious secrets we could have learned! (None.)
But we did learn the tastiest secret of all! Apple has remote control over iPhones. This includes the iPhone that you bought, that you supposedly own, on which contains a wealth of your personal information.
If Apple can wipe out data remotely, it is not a stretch to suggest that they could capture data remotely. Your data. This includes those special pictures you have. Many apps already communicate your actions to ad servers or other third parties.
The numbers you called, how long you talked, and even where you were when you made the calls was already known by AT&T, iPhone’s exclusive carrier.
All cell phone carriers have already worked with police in revealing call records. And it must be admitted that these relationships have been useful in apprehending and convicting criminals.
Cell phone calls used to be open for all to hear until Congress passed a law banning sale of equipment that could tune into the relevant frequencies (a silly law, like most: any radioman can overcome this, and now technology has changed so that calls themselves are not sent in “in the clear”). And, of course, it is no stretch to imagine that cell phones can be engineered to transmit surreptitiously, and thus be turned into bugs.
Switch to Amazon and its Kindle. Everybody by now knows that in July 2009, Amazon remotely wiped out copies of Orwell’s 1984 from all Kindles. Why they did it is not interesting (a contract dispute), but what is is that they could do it.
Many Kindle owners were surprised to learn that they did not own the material stored on their devices, but that they merely licensed it. The Kindles allow users to make annotations on its licensed material. Can Amazon retrieve this information remotely?
Google captures and stores your searches. All the websites you visit know what you’re up to. Email is no more secure than a postcard. You internet carrier has a complete record of the material you downloaded (at the household level, and possibly at the browser level).
Facial recognition software, which has reasonable error rates, is installed in an increasing number of locations.
In short, and obviously, the nature of ownership and privacy has changed. It will continue to do so and not in your favor. Less of what is in your possession will be legally yours, and more of what you do will be available to public scrutiny.
It is about here that the undead argument “Why worry if you have nothing to hide?” is trotted out. If you’re truly an innocent, why care if some government bureaucracy thumbs through your old emails, personal files, and listens in on your calls?
The answer to this is obvious: it is easier than dropping an hammer on your foot for someone to take your actions out of context and insinuate evil motives. It is the full majesty, power, and unlimited resources of the government against pathetic, weak, finite you. Almost any mundane event can be turned into a sinister-sounding plot by a mustache-twisting government lawyer.
Solution? None, really. Restraining the government appears to be beyond our will. And nobody wants to be a, or be accused of being, a Luddite. Practically, you should realize that anything done on-line or over-the-air is public domain.
Once this knowledge is assimilated, will it lead to a more civil society?