Wednesday, April 27, 2011

When Market Research Becomes Big Brother

The biggest story to rock the tech world by a country mile of late has been the controversy surrounding the Apple iPhone clandestinely tracking and recording the movements of users. With similar allegations surrounding Google's Android smart phones, the issue has justifiably ignited the anger of users and invited the condemnation of privacy advocates.

Apple has responded by denying there is a problem and then promising to fix it. Sound familiar? It was about a year ago that Toyota got into even hotter water over problems with sudden acceleration that may have caused its vehicles to take the lives of several drivers. The auto manufacturer responded in a similar manner, first denying such a problem existed and then recalling several models including the Prius for a series of fixes that seemed designed to placate drivers as much as anything else.

Apple are luckier than Toyota for a number of reasons. For one thing no one has died . . . yet. Also for Apple it's not so much of a question of recalling peoples' iPhones as it is to disable or allow people to disable the function that tracks their movements.

These latest allegations could be considered part of a disturbing trend that has emerged in which big Internet and technology companies appear to overstep themselves in monitoring customer and user data. Google have been in hot water several times in the last year. First for invading people's privacy in their effort to circumvent the Earth with photographs for their Google Street View project and now for Android phones tracking their users.

One could take the view that it may be time to regulate tech providers into providing a bit more disclosure about just what it is that their sparkly new products and services are doing for us exactly. There are days now reading the tech news when George Orwell's "telescreen," once the stuff of cautionary tales of future fiction, seems as dangerously close to our current reality as a speeding, out of control Prius does to a freeway guardrail.

Maybe it's time to issue not a recall, but a reclaim, as in let's reclaim our privacy.

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