Big Brother is Tracking You
While much of the media and
blogosphere were reacting to last week’s revelations that iPhones and iPads
were tracking (and keeping data on) users’ movements,
business observers were taking a possibly more sinister view. Breeches of corporate
confidentiality, albeit solvable, were seen as potentially more serious than
consumer concerns about privacy.
Some reports also claimed that the real story
is simply that no one paid much attention until now to either the personal
or business implications. This is not absolutely true. In addition to Apple’s
assertion of its intentions in its terms and conditions, news of the tracking
was publicized in a book published in December 2010, according to InformationWeek.
Apple also provided written details to a House committee about its location-based
services back in July 2010. PCMag explained that it started collecting data
in 2008 in response to consumer demand, but accessed it from Google and Skyhook
Wireless earlier still.
InformationWeek believes questions from regulators in
the U.S. and elsewhere could be deemed political opportunism but goes on to
say that the system still merits further examination. Explaining that for companies
issuing iPhones and iPads to employees, or permitting them to use their own
devices for business purposes, lack of security is a particularly critical
issue. While this may present opportunities for increased productivity at minimal
cost, it does carry risks.
Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, the security experts
who started the current debate, alerted people to the fact that location data
is readily available. PCMag reports their initial blogpost observing, "The
file is unencrypted and unprotected, and it’s on any machine you’ve synched
with your iOS device. It can also be easily accessed on the device itself if
it falls into the wrong hands."
Of equal or more concern is employees’ access
to business email via portable devices backed up at home. Quoting lawyer Alexander
H. Southwell, InformationWeek points out potential conflicts between convenience
and risk mean making clear "there’s
no expectation of privacy." Miriam Wugmeister, chair of the global privacy
practice at law firm Morrison & Foerster, agreed but stressed that while
understanding of what is and is not permissible is needed, there are also technological
means of separating business and personal data.
Following global coverage of
its alleged awareness of users’ locations, Apple eventually added a response
to a Frequently Asked Question on its website. Apple claimed that people were "confused" and
didn’t understand the data was totally anonymous and crowdsourced. The company
is not tracking users but the locations of hotspots and cell phone towers.
commentary] From an employee perspective, there needs to be mutual trust. After
all, do you really, really want the boss to know where you are 24/7? And are
you really, really sure none of your colleagues can access the unsecured data?
And finally, are you really, really sure no one who knows your movements will
share them with someone you would prefer remained in the dark?
Rick Moss, RetailWire’s president, particularly likes the example of an executive found to be repeatedly
checking into a hotel near a competitor. This could, apparently, raise questions
about industrial espionage, a potential takeover bid or even illicit relationships
- iPhone tracks users’ movements – BBC
- iPhone Tracking Only Tip Of Security Iceberg – InformationWeek
- Apple’s iPhone Tracking: What You Need to Know – PCMag
and iPad can track a user’s location history – Los Angeles
- Wi-fi security flaws for smartphones puts your credit cards at risk – The
- Apple’s privacy headache – CNET
Discussion Questions: Does your company have policies guarding corporate data being used on employees’ personal devices and home computers? How would you suggest that mutual trust be established between employers and employees to prevent corporate data being misused?