Electronic Big Brother?

A recent announcement by Apple that its iPhone will soon be open to more robust business applications, putting into direct competition with RIM’s Blackberry, sounded good on the surface, but was a little scary to think about.

Along with this announcement, Apple announced a partnership with vaunted venture capitalists, Kleiner Perkins. And John Doerr, a partner at KP, said, “This is a really big deal. It’s bigger than the personal computer.”

Did you catch that? This is a really big deal. It’s bigger than the personal computer. Why is it so big? Because the device knows who you are and where you are. Applications developed for the device can be targeted not only to specific markets, but to specific individuals, in specific places, at specific times.

I have to tie this to the software that Facebook ill-advisedly implemented several months prior to this announcement, in which various purchases or site visits one might make on the Internet are reported to one’s Friends via a “service” called Facebook Beacon.

Put these two pieces together.

Not only are your whereabouts and actions and purchases and communications remotely trackable, they are also remotely distributable to people you know… or people you don’t know.

Chances are pretty good that most people will never know, never be able to track what is communicated about them, or to whom, because it will be too complicated, too inconvenient to control or opt-out, or there are just not enough hours in the day to keep track of it.

Assuming that devices and applications will generally ship with these features enabled by default, that’s they way they will be left by at least 50% of the consumers. Only with aggressive public-information and education campaigns will most consumers even be aware that these things are happening – or could happen – in the background, without their slightest involvement.

I’ll never forget my parents reaction, then in their mid-70’s, to the news that it was possible for someone to type in their name on the internet, to get their street address, and then to view a satellite image of their home. What’s the harm, you ask? To a 70-plus year old non-computer-user, it’s shocking. It’s life under a microscope. It’s not supposed to be that way. It’s supposed to be a democracy. There’s supposed to be some privacy. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, kind of thing.

I love all things Apple. Amazing technology, amazing design, really wonderful uplifting approach to making tools we can all benefit from. But I have to say that this technology – not specific to Apple, by the way; my reaction was simply triggered by these announcements – really scares me. I don’t know that our awareness of and attention to side effects is at all keeping pace with our rush to find the cure. Let’s think twice about where technology is going before we are there and we regret it.

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3 thoughts on “Electronic Big Brother?

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