Apple was outed last week for doing something either sinister or stupid (or both): Researchers revealed that the iPhone remembers where you’ve been pretty much all the time and saves that information in a way that almost anyone can access.
The revelation whipped up a media frenzy, and why not? Internet privacy is a hot topic — rightly so — as more of our computing goes mobile. The biggest subsidy for access to free and cheap content remain targeted ads. The more relevant the ad, the more valuable they are to advertisers and publishers — and the less annoying to the consumer. Google alone makes about $5 billion every three months mainly on ads that are more likely to pique your interest because they are determined by what you are searching for, or key words in your e-mails.
This iPhone dossier should not exist, at least in its current form. It lives, zombie-like, without any form or protection of encryption, not only on your iPhone but also on the computer you use to sync and back it up. Even if Apple isn’t hand-feeding your bread trail into the salivating mouths of sleazy marketers (and there is no evidence it is) the mere existence of this database is very problematic for very practical reasons: It could, for example, give a jealous spouse new leverage to demand you produce actual evidence to back your word about working late last week, and your employer a means to verify that you really did have that expensive lunch you expensed.
But a funny thing happened while many of us were getting exercised about this curious discovery: Apple didn’t say a word about it. Nobody even asked about it during the company’s fortuitously-scheduled earnings conference call. Shares in the red-hot company even closed up on the week, largely on a quarterly report which saw profits nearly double.
Remember antenna-gate? When a slight design issue with the iPhone 4′s external antenna, which affected call quality, prompted CEO Steve Jobs to hold an uncomfortable live press event and offer anyone who wanted one a free case, $30 retail value? Remember when Jobs was seen as cavalier by tacitly acknowledging the problem by suggesting we should “Just avoid holding it in this way?”