First our friends. Then our photos. And now our fingerprints. Got privacy?
I finally did it this week. I gave up my BlackBerry. Seems like what an early adapter should have done by now? The iPhone has always just been my back-up plan and second number. Never seemed to compare to my world traveled and always reliable BlackBerry. I took the leap last week and gave it up for a Samsung Galaxy S4. Primetime. No more BlackBerry.
So I basically spent the weekend opting in, to... well... everything? Seems like opting in makes everything work better? If you got a new smartphone anytime recently, you may notice opting in makes the world go round. Easy. And if you didn't get a new gadget of any sort recently, you already opted in. You might not know it?
Of the new iPhone models released just this past Friday, the 5S is already the far more popular choice.
It makes perfect sense that early adopters would invest in the model that showcases the most cutting-edge technology. The 5S has been benchmarked to be leaps and bounds faster than the iPhone 5, and it features a better camera, improved battery life, a motion co-processing chip and a highly vaunted fingerprint sensor embedded within the Home button.
Meanwhile, the iPhone 5C is just a plasticky, multi-hued version of the iPhone 5. As brilliant as that phone was when initially released, in just a year it's become ancient tech. Early adopters have not been salivating for months to buy an old phone in a new case.
Naturally the iPhone launch is big news, especially since consumers have already purchased 9 million new iPhones within the first three days of release. With this much money being made, the media has no choice but to report more stories about Apple's unyielding success, whether they are about which color choice is more popular (the gold-colored 5S, which is selling for up to $1,800 on eBay, seems to be the early winner) or how iOS 7 keeps setting new records for fastest adoption on existing devices. Surely, millions will download apps that take advantage of the new software and hardware capabilities.
Lost in this bevy of self-congratulatory news is the pivotal discussion about where this technology is taking us. Should we be more concerned for our privacy? Do we care? Sleep with the blinds open? Exactly how much privacy is our society willing to cede for the sake of additional convenience?
Already, millions of people volunteer a comprehensive record of their daily lives. It is common to share self-taken photos and videos of one's family and friends on Facebook, to check-in with one's location on FourSquare, and to share opinions on Reddit. More privately (but only comparatively), the most personal messages are transmitted through SMS-type services. Most of one's private details, from a medical history to banking transactions, could be found embedded within the average person's email archive. The rest could probably be found in the ISP's logs, if not a laptop's browser history.
It has already been confirmed, due to Edward Snowden's leaks over the summer, that none of this is private. Zip. In fact, every word, every pixel and every bit of it is mined for data on a continuous and automatic basis. It's all part the American government's ubiquitous digital spying to keep us all out of harms way. The NSA has paid cloud, email and mobile providers like Apple, Verizon, AT&T, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and others millions of dollars to become their not so secret anymore surveillance operation of unprecedented scale. Now that we can measure more personal data than ever before, how dare we hand over our most intimate details -- even those more personal than a love letter or more important than an insurance document -- to the same mega-corporations who have already proven to be incapable or unwilling to keep them private?
Up to five individual fingerprints can be tracked and stored by the iPhone 5S to be used as a literally digital key for the iPhone's lockscreen. From all accounts, the "TouchID" fingerprint sensor is incredibly accurate; it only takes a few moments for the phone to instantly and always recognize a fingerprint, a biological unique identifier that has been used to track individuals since 1880. Apple claims that this data is never transmitted to their servers. Further, they tell us that the fingerprint is securely stored within a partition within the iPhone 5S chipset. Even if this is true -- and Apple's track record may be questionable -- it only took a matter of hours before hackers found a workaround to the TouchID security system. Moreover, other companies, perhaps with lower security standards than Apple, will surely premiere their very own fingerprint sensors on Android smartphones.
The iPhone's M7 co-processor is the best integrated-chipset yet for motion tracking. New apps like Nike's Move+ app will be able to take advantage of the M7, which can process motion data from the iPhone's accelerometer, gyroscope and compass. Never before has it been so easy to track how, where, and to what extent we move. Together with smart GPS and user inputs in fitness apps, the iPhone and the clouds of servers supplying it will hold a complete collection of data about a person's condition and location.
Apple's chief competitor in mobile space, Samsung, added facial tracking to their flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone in a feature they dub "SmartScroll." The integrated camera watches a users face to help scroll text at the same rate that one reads what's on the screen. It's a convenience that will only get better as time goes on: eye-tracking has been a technology in development for years, much to the chagrin of privacy advocates. The Kinect technology accompanying Microsoft's soon-to-be-released Xbox One features a camera so precise that it can see in the dark and through human skin. It is always on. For years, Facebook has had the ability to automatically identify who is who in your uploaded photo collection. As wonderful as this technology is for gaming or for reading or for automatically tagging image databases, what going to happen when everything is mashed together in a searchable, sortable database?
So much of our data is already available online to the government, mega-corporations and determined hackers. There is no reason to believe that our biometric data, including our unique faces, our voices, our fingerprints, our movements and heart rates will be left alone. Without meaningful protections and a public outcry, perhaps nothing will stop privacy from becoming an outdated and archaic concept -- but at least we'll have shiny new iPhones.
Opt in. It's easy. I have to wonder if it's worth the price.