This morning, every morning news show (at least every one that’s ever on in our house, which is most of them since my ADD afflicted husband can’t leave the tv on one station for more than 2 minutes) was screaming about the news that iPhones and 3G enabled iPads collect and record data tracking your whereabouts as you schlep them around town. This is apparently a crisis even bigger than the narrowly averted government shut down that would have put thousands of people out of work indefinitely. Who knew? Ok, so your iPhone/iPad is collecting data on where you are and storing it on your device/synced computer. Here's why this is a strange thing to panic about:
1) It's on YOUR computer--as in the one you own-- and the little gadget you’re carrying around in your own hand. Let’s start with the gadget. These things are not cheap, so unless you have the common sense of cottage cheese, you’re probably pretty careful about where you leave it lying around. This necessarily limits the number of people who are going to access the information on it. They’re also very small and light (read: MOBILE), which is likely part of the reason you bought it; meaning you’re probably keeping it pretty close to you most of the time. As for the computer to which it syncs, you probably have way more sensitive info on there, anyway. If you’re the kind of person who only uses your computer for word processing, you’re probably not the kind of person who buys an iPad/iPhone. It’s much more likely that you use your computer for EVERYTHING—taxes, budgeting, personal contacts, stocks, shopping, record keeping…. Hopefully you've taken steps to secure all of your information already. If not, you've got bigger problems than someone knowing you were at Banana Republic yesterday.
2) Where you've been is public information by virtue of the fact that OTHER PEOPLE CAN SEE YOU! Unless you're the Invisible Man, someone else already knows you stopped at Starbucks on your way to work. Lots of someones. This is the whole reason private detectives can make a living; they can see you to follow you around and report on where you’ve been. There is no implication of privacy when you’re out in public. The fact that you’re in public is not classified information. Even your home address is public information in most cases, unless you’re completely off the grid…in which case, you’re almost certainly not in possession of an iPad. Although I would certainly expect some amount of privacy in my own home, the fact that I am home is still not a state secret. My neighbors and anyone who walks by can probably figure out that I’m home from the fact that my car is in the driveway and the lights are on. Some of them probably saw me pull in and walk in the door. This is especially true if you live in my mother's neighborhood.
3) If you’re the kind of person who owns an iPad, you probably also have a cell phone, and maybe even a GPS. If you own an iPhone, well, I hate to break this to you if you didn’t already know it, but you own a cell phone. Cell phone companies already track your whereabouts while your cell phone is on (and not to belabor the point, but if you carry an i-gizzmo, you’re not likely to be the sort of person who only turns their phone on in an emergency). The only difference here is that they have the info, not you.
4) This is not a chip that’s been implanted in your head without your knowledge. It’s a hand held device, with no discernible means of locomotion on its own. In other words, you don’t have to take it with you. You can, in theory, leave it behind. If you don’t want it to know where you’ve been, don’t take it along. There are no recorded cases of i-withdrawal being fatal. I promise.
5) This is perhaps the oddest point. Folks who use iPads and iPhones are usually the same ones using the internet. A lot. Otherwise, there’s not much reason for you to have one of these gadgets. You’re probably also on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare (which, btw, is simply a means of letting other people know WHERE YOU ARE), MySpace, etc. It seems incongruous to log the details of your fight with your son, what you had for dinner last night, where you grocery shop, which team you’re currently rooting for, and your thoughts on, well, everything, but want to keep the fact that you went to work on Thursday a secret. I’m not sure I follow the logic there. If you’re already sharing many of the intimate details of your life, why are you worried that your iPhone knows you went to McDonald’s last weekend?