Apple let off the hook, but privacy battle rumbles on

Written by on March 30, 2016 in News, Opinion with 0 Comments

courtroomThere will be relief in Cupertino at the moment as Apple is let off having to go to court to defend its position on unlocking devices. The debate, however, will – and should – carry on.

Apple says that helping a Government agency unlock an iPhone sets a dangerous precedent and eats up resources. Clearly Apple has many resources and the precedent is the real issue. A recent cartoon in Forbes showed an engineer unlocking the ‘back door’ of a huge iPhone. Behind him is standing an FBI operative, but behind him in increasing size and scariness is a huge hacker, an even bigger general from an ‘oppressive regime’ and they are rubbing their hands in anticipation and glee. You get the picture.

The Government says that the pursuit of terrorists and dangerous criminals must surely warrant getting help from a device manufacturer in order to break extremist networks and shut them down. Government agencies, after all, can get a search warrant for a house or property belonging to a criminal and under most terrorist laws, do not even need that.

It is a thorny issue and it is easy to understand both points of view. Had the case gone to court it would have been a milestone decision in the privacy vs security debate.

The worst thing that companies whose lifeblood is our data can do at the moment is wear out our patience. And sadly, they are beginning to do just that. Google has had its wrist slapped and told to pay a €100,000 fine for not following the spirit of a judgement that allows people the ‘right to be forgotten.’ Others, such as Microsoft, are finding that being too clever with ‘intuitive’ ways of engaging with Twitter users can backfire badly, resulting in a service being shut down.

The examples are mounting of data being blatantly used to expand networks and therefore increase the potential to make money out of advertising. Try this at home: look at someone’s profile on LinkedIn. Do not ask him to connect, just look. A day later visit Facebook and that person will almost certainly appear as ‘someone who you might want to be friends with.’ In one instance, LinkedIn just this morning, came up with ‘suggestions’ for people to connect with, and the list came straight out of the email addresses that had been sent email over the weekend.

And because we lose track of which app we have allowed access to what, we don’t know if we gave express permission or not. It is plausible that the company changed their terms and conditions and we clicked ‘agree’ because otherwise we are denied access to the service, but it is no less irritating.

That element of data usage is beginning to stink, badly. Products are becoming successful that stop wholesale use of our data and there is a shift in mood emerging that says that our data should be our data.

The real downside of this over-use of our data is that, when, somehow, somewhere, the test case such as the one Apple dodged, finally comes to a judge making a decision, the public support will be in favour of the Government.

And that will not be a good thing for free speech, nor anything else for that matter.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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