How important is your online privacy? Does it cross a line when your gadgets track where you go when you are offline? Is it too much that Apple knows you’ve been to Starbucks three times today? Turns out your phone may know everywhere you have been and it isn’t shy about keeping that information. Minnesota Senator Al Franken has asked Apple for answers about the nature of location tracking on the iPhone (as well as the iPad) and why users were never made aware of its existence. Franken as well as the Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, announced the first hearing will occur on May 10, 2011 of “Protecting Mobile Privacy : Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy.”
Apple and Google have been asked to appear as well as witnesses from the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission. Also appearing will be Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy researcher and consultant; and Justin Brookman, Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Project on Consumer Privacy.
I think users were slightly aware of the existence of location tracking. Can it really be a surprise to anyone anymore that this valuable information is collected and used to target ads to the consumer? Apple claims that all location data is anonymous and not linked to specific users. Maybe Apple could have bypassed all of this scrutiny by allowing users to opt out of data collecting. As of now the only way iPhone users can avoid having their location tracked is to jailbreak the device (a really big no-no in your terms of service) to install a third party app or find another phone. Turning off the location setting on the iPhone does not prevent the handset from storing or transmitting such data.
Here are some questions I hope will encourage discussion from Librarians interested in intellectual freedom. Do you care if people know where you go? Are you OK that you can receive targeted ads for the places you frequent? Would you like Apple and Google to release this information so you can get better advertising and suggestions offered to you? Do you believe Eric Schmidt’s statement from December 2009 that “if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
Where do you draw your privacy line?