Daniel Eran Dilger in San Francisco
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Why the phony LocationGate scandal targets fear of Apple’s iOS more than Android

Daniel Eran Dilger

According to hysterical reports of fear mongers, Apple and Google are tracking your every move using smartphones, compiling a historical trail they can then profit from. That’s wrong, here’s why.
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The phony outrage of the LocationGate scandal

If there is anything less appropriate than a technologically ignorant media covering the subtleties of the manufactured LocationGate phony-scandal, it’s the investigative policing by US and EU politicians who have suspended their efforts to rectify the economy, housing, employment and various other natural and man-made disasters in order to tackle the idea of whether smartphones might be recording one’s location the same way mobile towers and phone companies have since the beginning of mobile telephony.

Sure, there is some concern warranted by a system that can (under duress) report where you have been (just like your phone bill, or your FastTrack bridge toll transponder, or key fobs, or those ‘swipe your license and take your photo upon entering’ clubs). In the case of a smartphone, it might be unexpected news to some less technically inclined individuals that the device is maintaining a database of locations in order to be able to report your current location immediately when you demand that it does, say when you pull up Google Maps and ask where you are.

A dedicated GPS device can take a minute or more to calculate your location, but smartphone users demand a fast answer, whether they are looking up a location-based search of nearby restaurants, or simply tagging the photos they snap with automatic geolocation metadata that might be useful in reconstructing events after the fact when organizing an album.

To perform fast lookups, a smartphone has to remember landmarks, relying upon mobile phone radio towers or nearby WiFi hotspots, the only objects it can really see around itself. There’s certainly room for critical discussion about how much of this data the device should remember and how well it secures this data from potential theft, but of all the secret or potentially embarrassing data on a smartphone, I’d say that photos, emails, text messages and documents are all far more sensitive information than a history of general location recordings.

Note that none of this is available to anyone unless they have your smartphone. If you lose your phone, the generalized path your phone has followed over the past year should be the least of your worries. Fortunately, location services can also kick in to help remotely erase your device, making it a solution to the very problem fear-mongers are propagating about it.

In any event, an issue of some slight interest has ballooned into a fiery controversy elevated to the top page of major American newspapers, pushing aside their usual top coverage of subjects ranging from celebrities’ hair to their suspended jail sentences for bad behavior. Once that happens, elected officials start asking hard questions, such as “why are you collecting location data on a device with a primary function related to reporting one’s location?”

A better question would be: who stands to benefit from location services gone bad, and what forces will best deter misuse of such data by those who maintain it?

Risk and Reward: who benefits from location tracking?

Apple’s primary reason behind everything it does is related to making attractive hardware that people will want to buy. The company works hard on everything from the ease of use of the software to the device’s outward appearance and even its packaging, striving to strike a balance between a fun to open box that adds sophistication and allure to the ownership experience, while also being small and easy to ship and worthy of attention for its efforts in reducing packaging waste and its related environmental impact. All of those things are intended to enhance the likelihood of a hardware buyer’s transaction.

When Apple tracks your location, it’s being motivated by the need to provide a rapid location fix and deliver a clever assortment of applications that make use of such information, ranging from maps to photo geolocation to remote device location. Just as with its packaging design, Apple strives to balance such handy utility with pragmatic concerns about location safety. It allows you to turn off location services and forces third parties to ask for permission before using the data, given that your location may at times be something you don’t what to share.

But the core motivation behind all of Apple’s location-related efforts remains the same as everything else the company does: it’s working to sell you hardware. Selling you a bad device that doesn’t work right, or fast enough, or which jumps through too many hoops, or which exposes too much data to potential spammers or even malicious third parties will result in lower sales for Apple. That aligns the company’s efforts with the needs and desires of its customers.

It’s capitalism at work, doing what capitalism does best: aligning the needs of buyers with the needs of suppliers, making profits a positive motivation for fulfilling everyone’s demands as efficiently as possible. In Apple’s case, location tracking primarily benefits consumers, by design of a company that aims everything it does at generating hardware sales directly to end users.

Google is not Apple

Sure, both Apple and Google employ the same kinds of scientists (often with lots of cross pollination). But Google doesn’t sell consumers anything directly. Instead, it sells consumers to advertisers. Google is not a company that produces products to entice consumers to buy them. It produces products that can be used to sell the attention of consumers to advertisers. The end product Google sells is not hardware nor even software, but audiences.

Google is therefore a lot like Facebook and Twitter and Fox News and roadside billboards. Consumers might find some benefit to viewing these things, but the real value is the fact that they are viewing them, something that Google and Facebook and Twitter and News Corp and Clear Channel turn around and sell to their real customers, the advertisers wishing to propagate a message.

The needs of Google-like companies are therefore not necessarily aligned with the needs of consumers. Consumers get what is available, not what they want, because they’re not in a position to demand anything. They’re not really paying to use Google or Facebook or Twitter or TV or billboards; they get it ostensibly for “free,” even though they are paying for all those things indirectly. Consumers can threaten to leave or stop using them, but this is not an easy decision to make given the barriers erected around the Google Way that thwart defection.

The Google Way

This makes the Google Way much more like communism. There is no choice for consumers; they can only attempt to leave the captive region by hopping over high walls and racing for less totalitarian pastures. If they stay, they enjoy a communist paradise where an elite intellectual class makes decisions for them without their input, and where the surrounding media blesses and praises and reveres everything being done by the leaders as examples of idealistic progress.

Ironically, people who like the Google Way often turn around and call those who choose to use Apple products slaves and sheep and conformist followers, apparently unaware of how comical this is coming from a group of people unable to even vote with their dollars. The Eastern Bloc formerly also mocked the West as being slaves of commerce and unable to benefit from the glorious freedom afforded by communism, where everything was removed from proprietary ownership and was instead collectively maintained by a system run by geniuses, the same idea behind the Open Software movement.

In retrospect, however, economic communism as practiced by the USSR and China didn’t really work out that well. Today, those nations have since adopted much of the behaviors of the West in acknowledgment that their own economic systems simply weren’t working, much as Samsung and Motorola and HP and Nokia and Microsoft have closely copied Apple after discovering that their own efforts at indirect corporate partnerships that delivered non-choices to consumers had failed at the feet of Apple’s success.

Under the Google Way, issues related to location services shift from being a consumer feature (which may have some unintended, unanticipated and unpleasant consequences) to being a power maintenance feature that is aimed primarily at keeping the existing system in place. So while, for example, fencing in the West might be sold to keep farmers’ animals contained, under communism fencing was primarily used to keep people from leaving the glorious communist paradise.

The communist paradise

Identically, while location services on the iPhone are designed to power valuable and attractive consumer-facing features (which ultimate sell hardware), in the Android world it is used to fuel identity collection aimed at delivering more profitable advertising that then promises to make everything else free. Android users are therefore kept tightly bound to the platform through the promise that their devices will be cheap, their apps will be free and content will cost nothing.

The kind of people who are attracted to low cost or free services at the expense of being able to make their own choices by voting with their dollars are the most ardent supporters of Android. People who prefer to pay specifically for what they want, tailor their experience to their own personal whims using dollar-lubricated transactions and maintain control over their sense of independence are the type of people who most vociferously support Apple’s mobile products.

This explains why Android has so few valuable apps. The USSR also lacked a variety of different kinds of food products, for example. Why would one need multiple choices in the communist paradise where everything was free anyway? And who would be motivated to create all sorts of alternative choices under a system where the intellectuals were already generating far superior free ones?

The way Android enthusiasts hail their free copy of the ad-supported Angry Birds reminds me of East Germans lining up to get a Trabant. Neither really deserved to be lauded as a symbol of the prowess of communism.

Compare the several commercial GPS apps available on iOS with the only real option for Android: Google Maps Navigation. Yes, Google’s free app is nice. The problem is that Google doesn’t also create The Best selection of games, utilities, inventive new services and everything else on Earth as represented by the more than a third of a million apps available in the iOS App Store. Google simply can’t; it doesn’t employ that many developers.

Communism delivered nice subways, hospitals, space programs, and certain other features that were competitive or in some cases ahead of the West. But overall, it could not deliver the pace of progress that capitalism did. The reason is not because of the magical system of western capitalism, which has itself failed miserably in some respects over and over, from dust bowls and monoculture farming to dependance upon foreign oil. Capitalism has worked best because it does the best job of preventing one limited group of people from making too many critical decisions, just as democracy works best by limiting any one group from getting too much power.

The power of choice

There is nothing wrong with communism conceptually. However, there is a very real problem in that to perform on a mass scale, it requires that a few people make long term planning decisions that impact lots of people who have little to no voice in how things will be carried out. If they could provide input, it would make the system so slow that nothing could ever happen (much like San Francisco).

Capitalism, on the other hand, can afford millions of people to make limited-scope decisions based entirely upon small transactions of voting with their dollars. If America had been taken over by communists in 2009, as represented by the elite tech media, they would have divested Apple’s resources and given them to Palm, which seemed to have eclipsed Apple technologically, at least in the view of people who don’t like Apple. That would have been devastating for Apple and America, because Palm would have collapsed under its own efforts despite any infusion of Apple’s billions simply because it wasn’t nearly as prepared to deliver anything as those geniuses in the media originally surmised.

In 2010, the communists would have taken Apple’s cash and given it to Android licensees, allowing them to put out more devices, ostensibly with more choices for consumers. That too would have been disastrous, because those choices were as phony as the choices under Microsoft’s PlaysForSure; they were all the same choice dressed up in a variety of different hardware gimmicks or short term cost saving ploys, ranging from HTC’s awful screens to Motorola’s spongy keypads.

A thousand phony “choices” under the umbrella of Microsoft of Google is like being able to pick from one of a thousand different shapes of an Irish Potato in 1945. The problem is that they are all the same thing, suffering from the same blight. Both hypothetical fiascos would be the result of a few people with limited perspective making all the decisions instead of allowing millions of consumers to make real choice.

In a really progressive, economically liberal market, anyone can bring their products without the elitist seal of approval of Android or Flash or Java or Windows or CNET reviewers biased to support a monoculture platform. That has enabled millions of people to vote with their dollars to rapidly make Apple the most valuable tech company in the world over the last half decade.

In this type of market, consumers decide whether they want an iOS device maintained by Apple, a webOS device built by HP, a Blackberry developed by RIM, a WP7 model created by Microsoft and Nokia, or an Android device created by Google and Samsung. That’s real choice, and it reflects the market for other real and completive markets such as cars, where one can buy a Mazda rebranded by Ford, but can also buy an original design by Kia, or BMW, or Honda, or GM. They are real choices, not various marquees applied to a generic operating system or reference design platform developed by one global company.

That’s because capitalism begins to fail just as badly as communism when the power of choice is functionally eliminated. Remove government oversight, and corporations bloom into the equivalent of communist supreme soviet boards, making all the far reaching decisions internally and rendering the votes of consumers as irrelevant. Reduce competition and choice evaporates. Conglomerate media or production to a few massive companies and nobody has the ability to compete.

Choice demands accountability

The day that Apple becomes the only choice in PCs and smartphones is the day interference will be needed to induce competition. Until then, Apple is profiting greatly from the power of choice it offers in a variety of markets where there is little or no real choice. And despite Apple’s size and profits, it’s ability to thrive is dependent upon making consumers happy, something Android doesn’t have to do. All Android has to do is keep down prices and glut the market with low end options.

There is little accountability tied to such a trap of free or cheap products. No matter how bad Android’s malware, software selection, stability, usability, fragmentation or spyware problems get, it will still have a captive audience as long as it can be propagated cheaply via adware, just as Windows survived decades of bad behavior without ever fomenting demands that it be eradicated as a global pest.

While there will always be a market for cheap, low quality processed food, the emergence of Apple as a high value brand indicates that the world is hungry for premium choices and willing to vote for these choices with its dollars. The people who are choosey demand more, which explains why Apple produces a premium product and supports it better.

Apple is also regularly targeted with a seasonal ControversyGate wiped into a frenzy by the tech media, which seems to prefer the inherent predictability of the communist paradise ruled over by a single supreme technology soviet platform. After all, it was certainly easier to be the editor of Pravda than to report as a real journalist in the West. One requires effort, while the other only requires repeating the talking points of the leading monoculture paying for advertisements to the captive audience of a communist paradise.

29 comments

1 John E { 04.25.11 at 2:34 pm }

Geeze. i think there is a good point buried in this long post someplace, but the Metaphor Monster gobbled it up.

2 lmasanti { 04.25.11 at 2:41 pm }

Why are politicians afraid of location tracking?

Because somebody can know when and where they go to be bribed by maffia/telcos or spend time witn a escort!

3 stormj { 04.25.11 at 2:52 pm }

Funny that since Android is going to kill the iPhone any minute now that the press seems to think it’s more important that the iPhone is tracking your location.

4 stormj { 04.25.11 at 2:54 pm }

P.S.

Somebody stop me if Henry “That Stock I Sold To My Clients Is A Piece of Shit” Blodget already wrote this since I stopped following his egregious linkbait on Twitter, but I’m sure this is great news for John McCain Google and is just another sign of the end of The Democrats Apple.

5 lahaina { 04.25.11 at 3:37 pm }

We are now used to each infliction of privacy invasion being accompanied by reassuring words. See, it’s for your convenience. It’s not as bad as you think. It will make you more secure, etc. Insidiously, these reassurances may now come with the gentle assertion that if you are complaining then you may have something to hide–especially if they come from TSA or other government agencies.

Well, bullshit! “Because its none of your damned business,” should remain reason enough now as it did in the past. Especially for the devices I buy, I expect to be informed (in more detail, not less) of potential for data harvesting, the kind of data being compiled, and a way to opt out of it. Yes: Even if it makes the device a little less functional or results in my choosing another device..

I don’t believe in grand conspiracies or master plans. Instead, I think the foundation for a powerful framework comprised of millions of bits of innocently surrendered data just happens to be an emerging byproduct of all of these ever so reasonable compromises we make. We already know from the Bush years that the public can be absolutely cowed into giving up almost anything in the interest of “security.” We are now coming to realize that in giving up privacy little by little, we may be offering real control to someone or some group in the future who is willing to reap the benefits–and the benefits will assuredly not be for our good.

[That's absolutely true, but given the information we now have, it appears that iOS 4 is only internally caching location data longer than what would seem to be necessary or useful. It is not reporting your location or making it available to spooks or spammers. Google is a different situation, as its use of location and other private user data is leveraged to support the core businesses model of the company, which is advertising.

Until we get some new information that Apple is actually using this data in ways that it currently says it isn't, the issue isn't whether big companies should be able to secretly make use of our data without transparency or allowing us to opt out, but simply a matter of getting what we asked for: the ability to find our location. Again, Google is a different situation, because it is very clearly saying that yes, despite having less data stored on the phone, it actually does regularly harvest this data to its cloud servers on a very regular basis.

The media has reported the opposite: that the iPhone stores more information longer, so is "tracking" you more. Which is senseless. Apple lacks much of a business model for user tracking. It does not sell closely targeted, location based ads. Google says it does. - Dan]

6 maxijazz { 04.25.11 at 3:57 pm }

Daniel,
If you would have a real experience of communistic life in Eastern Block or USSR in ’70-’80 you would know how current US and UE socialism is close to. In some aspects the control of contemporary “capitalistic” states over citizen’s life is much bigger then it was in communistic Europe 25 years ago.
If “capitalistic” governs of West will continue its socialistic march to bottom, nothing will stop China to take over the world (BTW. Chinese market system is much more capitalistic then Western one, fortunately for us, political system is still communistic).
I am sure you don’t believe me, but you know… time will learn you.

7 broadbean { 04.25.11 at 4:17 pm }

Dan, I don’t really mind the info my iPhone logs. The question is really if the length of time of the records kept is intentional or a bug.

8 gus2000 { 04.25.11 at 4:23 pm }

I find it odd that people who get free TV via antenna aren’t locked in a philosophical death struggle with those who pay for Cinemax. I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Hate the people that aren’t like you, and don’t make the same choices? Or is that only in high-tech?

I’d like to keep the location tracking data on my iPhone indefinitely for exculpatory purposes. “Honey, that wasn’t ME you saw with that blonde. Check my location data! I was at the office!”

9 gradha { 04.25.11 at 4:28 pm }

I won’t comment on the six out of seven sections of your article destined to make people look away from the problem which you outline in your first section, which is why is Apple storing permanently position information over time.

To perform fast lookups, a smartphone may remember landmarks, as you say, but a persistent log is not an efficient data structure for doing so, nor provides any better information than a simple faster set. In fact, storing more redundant information in this log will only make querying the archive slower, since it will grow over time. Which contradicts your presuming the data is collected for faster lookups.

A simple set serialized to disk, feature present in Apple’s own SDK. would be enough to perform the task of lookups and matches to improve the location response time to users, if not using a more sophisticated solution like an SQLite database. Also, to perform these lookups you don’t need information such as timestamps, since you would be storing only one instance of wifi/antenna per location, or at most a bunch, say last ten location positions for a given wifi/antenna.

Personal experience with the software reading the log files from my machine’s backup (http://petewarden.github.com/iPhoneTracker/) shows that the information collected is much more than what is required for location speed ups, in fact, allowing any person with access to this file not only track the places where a user has been but also the times.

You dismiss this problem, again looking in another direction, telling yourself that you have to access the physical device to obtain the data. Everybody knows in security circles that physical access is everything you need to enter even the most secured computer. Yet the software iPhoneTracker didn’t even need the device itself.

Why? Because it is stored in the computer at a known location and depending on system configuration and privileges, potentially accessible to any software running on the machine. Knowing that this file exists and is there, helps attackers to target specific people to run an attachment via email which would leak the location information, or maybe even exploiting a web page, which could anyway bypass any normal file security permissions on disk by exploiting an unpatched/unknown privilege escalation bug.

Oh, yes, I know you can encrypt backups, but surely what is encrypted can be decrypted again or it would be useless. And since we would be exploiting the host backing up the files, the attacker can perform all sorts of strategies to decrypt them again.

Your photos, emails, text messages and documents might be more important to you than your location, especially if you go around twittering or playing with check-in apps like foursquare, constantly transmitting your position. But not everybody is like you, and forcing your opinion on everybody else seems more like communism to me.

At least emails, photos, etc, can be erased, but where is the option to erase this location database? You can’t. Communist Apple decides for yourself what you can do with your device, or if you want to keep this information at all. Nor will a remote device erase delete the files from computers you have used.

This does indeed sound bad on a work environment where users who have to use an iphone/ipad for internal business applications cannot even decide who has access to their work machine, or control its security level.

All in all, no real technical reason behind storing all this information and exposing it to attackers, and a lot of rhetoric to make people look in another direction. Is this what this blog has come to be?

My best explanation for the location tracking file is simply a bug in the software/design not erasing what it should, similar to Google’s wifi packet sniffing fiasco. But we don’t need to speculate, we should see in a few days what Apple has to officially say with regards to the issue. Just stop with the hand waving articles and be patient.

10 gprovida { 04.25.11 at 4:36 pm }

I think your view about Apple not interested in consumer location due to business interests makes sense. I do think Apple was sloppy on the amount and duration of data as well as insensitive people’s security concerns. Google does worry me since there is tremendous value in selling me to advertisers and others. I think the communism vs capitalism model is a strentch. A better is monopoly vs competition.

11 stormj { 04.25.11 at 5:42 pm }

@maxijazz – oh, so you’re a former resident of the eastern bloc? I have a hard time believing that given your wildly off the mark definition of socialism. I find it hard to believe that you think a series of collapses created by capitalism are due to socialism, even if you believe the racial scare theory that this is all due to Fannie and Freddie loaning to black people–it still occurred in a loosely regulated free market! Why were Canadian banks more sound throughout all of this? They are more “socialist” than we are, are they not?

In reality, almost every country in the world has some degree of socialistic policies, like government funded police. Also in reality, the eastern bloc countries were not merely socialist, but were communist where the government directed what was produced and controlled every facet of life. Ironically, it was our allies in the western bloc that were “socialist” and continue to be to a larger degree.

@gradha You have confused a security problem with an invasion of privacy by the handset makers. There are numerous security issues on just about every platform.

Obviously, it is much worse if the companies themselves are secretly using information for the kinds of purposes that hackers might if they exploited some kind of hole.

But that doesn’t appear to be what’s going on.

If it’s too insecure because a piece of software can get at it, that can be simply patched.

12 Mark Hernandez { 04.25.11 at 7:14 pm }

Remember “My TiVo thinks I’m gay”?

13 s1ck { 04.25.11 at 9:00 pm }

The Google = communism metaphor is apt, and really made me think.

However, no one is really “locked in” to Google. I can easily switch search engines to Bing for example. In thinking through this further I think what Google really has is a monopoly on the mind. Everyone equates Google with search, and using their ad revenues from search they can drown out other competing brands with free software. I sense that this is what they are trying to do with Android.

14 marv08 { 04.25.11 at 9:25 pm }

While I agree with the general opinion buried in this piece (and sorry, no, I do not quite get what all this has to do with political systems… the point is not systems, it’s making use of freedoms – any given lemming under a democracy does not have any more fun than one under communism – David Byrne once had this great “People Like Us” piece in his “True Stories” movie… it explained it better than I can), I am not quite OK with what Apple did here.

While I am not the least bit worried (if somebody gains access to my mobile or computer, location data is the last thing I am worried about for sure), I am still annoyed. I demand to know what is on my devices. I know which pictures are on my devices, I am not dense enough to not know that there are call logs, text messages, etc. on my iPhone. But the sheer existence of this location data is not obvious at all, and there is no interface to delete it. Even worse, as the WSJ has reported, this information even gets stored, if one turns “location services” off. This leaves the user/owner with zero control about the own data, which is a no-go. While I am not really having foam coming out of my mouth about that, I do not consider it right either. If it is a bug, great, solve it. If it is a feature, give the user control over it. But anything that is (eventually, I haven’t bothered to read it) buried in a 300-400 page SLA on an iPhone’s screen… is not acceptable.

I agree with you that governments (in the US, Europe and Asia) should take care of more important issues for sure. But still, Apple owns its supporters/customers some explaining here… “It was not intended like that and the next iOS update will have a reset/purge switch under Settings” will do it nicely for me. The point that Google is worse, is no point. Getting screwed, molested, tortured or killed by, generally, good people, is not better than having a similar experience with the others.

15 scottkrk { 04.25.11 at 11:23 pm }

I agree that this has been blown out of proportion but as a long term Apple user I was surprised and dismayed that the location data was so comprehensive and so persistent.

(Dan, Honestly,weren’t you?).

Apple makes a big deal about user privacy and asking for permissions, it is one of the many reasons I choose Apple products. I hope Apple investigate the issue and makes a statement in the next couple of weeks to its users. Whether it was a bug or a case of a lower level engineer thinking ‘this could be a cool idea’ this is not the kind of thing I expect or would want from Apple.

16 stormj { 04.25.11 at 11:50 pm }

Personally, I would have been bothered only if the data is being used. The fact that it’s being kept and used for my convenience doesn’t bother me.

It’s a bit of a security issue, but so are all of the e-mails on there.

This is just the latest Christina, as in Applegate.

17 n00ber { 04.26.11 at 1:54 am }

“A thousand phony “choices” under the umbrella of Microsoft of Google is like being able to pick from one of a thousand different shapes of an Irish Potato in 1945. The problem is that they are all the same thing, suffering from the same blight.”

Ha! LOL. Succinct way of putting it! Well said. Just one typo: it was 1845 when the blight hit.

18 nextguy { 04.26.11 at 9:39 am }

While I think the whole “fiasco” is overblown since there is no evidence that the file is sent to apple themselves, this:

“This makes the Google Way much more like communism. There is no choice for consumers; they can only attempt to leave the captive region by hopping over high walls and racing for less totalitarian pastures.”

I think this applies to apple’s walled garden more than Android. I’m not forced to use their store or any store for that matter, nor is anyone forced into buying their phones. To say that people buy Android because they are cheap is ridiculous. It wasn’t until apple that a typical smartphone costs more than $600 unlocked. It’s more like apple went way overboard on price than Android is simply cheap.

Well, whatever. To say that capitalism is better than whatever else is something you regularly point out. But zooming out to the big picture, ALL human forms of government are an abject failure. To claim otherwise is more delusional than the whole apple vs. the world debate.

19 marv08 { 04.26.11 at 11:12 am }

@nextguy:

“It wasn’t until apple that a typical smartphone costs more than $600 unlocked. It’s more like apple went way overboard on price than Android is simply cheap.”

Well, my memory differs here. Somewhat “comparable” smartphones have not been less expensive before the iPhone, actually some higher end feature phones were more expensive than the iPhone. Because of the incompatible networks there was not really a market for unsubsidized unlocked phones in the US, but in many parts of the world such markets existed. Throughout Europe and Asia the Nokia N95 went for EUR 750 and higher (approx. $1,050 back then), the SE P910i went for EUR 900 unlocked, a simple feature phone in a metal body like the Nokia 8800 (tiny slider with a 1.5″ or so color screen, a WAP browser, unusable email client and less than one hour talk time on one battery) went for EUR 950 (over $1,300); heck, when the Razr was in hot demand, some shops were selling it for more than EUR 500 unlocked. All Nokia Communicators were in the EUR 1,000 range without subsidies.

The only thing that made the original iPhone expensive, was the strange revenue sharing model Apple tried out with AT&T. Nowadays, all “current” phones are more or less $199, and all models with last year’s hardware are $99. The OS does not seem to have any influence on the price, but demand has. Best example: Throughout Europe, several HTC and LG handsets exist in Android and WP7 versions (almost identical hardware). The Windows Phone 7 version is cheaper almost everywhere, because there is no demand. And that despite Android being “free” and WP7 carrying a license fee.

20 lahaina { 04.26.11 at 12:39 pm }

@Dan Yeah, I am in agreement with you. I do not believe that Apple is harvesting this data. But it is there. It is in the clear. And others are harvesting it apparently. So in my view, this is something Apple should fix PDQ. Also, for those who are willing to give a little bit here and give a little bit there, I just urge you to think about it a little bit. Hell, it probably is already too late but you don’t need to make it easy for ‘em.

21 TheMacAdvocate { 04.26.11 at 1:17 pm }

It’s likely the amount of information contained in the .db file was an oversight on Apple’s part; it was certainly a mistake that the information wasn’t easily encryptable. I expect this will be resolved with an iOS update.

Above all, like Dan, I believe that Apple’s motivations for keeping things like general user location info is entirely different than Google’s. Apple has shown with its “opt-in” subscription policy that it has the consumer’s interests at heart when it comes to privacy. Google’s “we’ll charge you less than Apple and you can have user data for free” policy tells you all you need to know about how they view individual privacy (if Schmidt’s repeated creepy statements on the topic weren’t enough to convince you).

22 tonortall { 04.26.11 at 2:07 pm }

I agree with that message was lost in metaphor for this piece but I would like to add something to the discussion. Just trawling /. this morning: Apple have location recording as part of their IP portfolio: http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220110051665%22.PGNR.&OS=DN/20110051665&RS=DN/20110051665

The business of user information, whether anonymised or not is certainly Apple’s game, but as you say, its drivers may be different. The advent of iAds must at least entertain the possibility that this information is being kept for a reason. At any rate, the EULA permits Apple to collect and share that information. That they do or do not is moot. They’ve reserved the right to do so.

Not so different from the Android EULA, I suspect.

23 cadillac88 { 04.26.11 at 3:31 pm }

Brilliant! Great analogies.

Quoting from Google’s Q111 earning call (Transcript: http://seekingalpha.com/article/263665-google-s-ceo-discusses-q1-2011-results-earnings-call-transcript), Susan Wojcicki, Senior Vice President, Advertising, remarking on one of the Marketing Tools their Display Advertisers can use to target Google Search Users with ever increasing accuracy;
“Our Ad Exchange, which we’ve been focused on building a unified buying platform so that advertisers and agencies can buy the exact audiences they want across the Internet.”
I don’t know of a clearer way to say – If you are not paying, you are not the customer, you are the product being sold.

For Google and Advertisers, the differentiation between User (Search) and Customer (Advertiser) is very clear. At some point, Google will stop using the euphemistic ‘Audience’ and just cut to the chase with the more precise term; ‘Inventory’.

24 magnusviri { 04.27.11 at 10:47 am }

I think I finally get why the media and public are so quick to find fault with Apple and ignore worse from others. Your analogies are always hard to swallow but they do fit. Your comments about the Google Way reminds me of this article on security in 2020, where it describes how corporations are going to secure their systems against tampering from consumers so that the corporations can protect their real customer, the advertisers. It is clear this is where things are headed if things remain “free” and when this happens “open” and “quality” will be the first things that die.

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/12/security_in_202.html

25 itotah { 04.27.11 at 11:07 am }

Simple: Love it!

My only complaint is that you don’t write more often.

26 lahaina { 04.27.11 at 3:20 pm }

Just kind of checking back in here. I couldn’t be happier with Apple’s response to this in their Q&A. Wish other companies were more like Apple in situations like this.
http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2011/04/27location_qa.html

27 JacktheMac { 04.27.11 at 4:27 pm }

Dan, I think your readers would be interested in reading your response to @gradha’s comments, especially in the light of today’s statement from Apple.

I’d also like a response to my (several) emails about where my donation to RoughlyDrafted went, but that’s a different matter…

28 stefn { 04.28.11 at 11:11 am }

You had me at Google “sells to consumers to advertisers.” The rest, as said above, is metaphorically over the top.

29 kdaeseok { 05.04.11 at 5:37 am }

Whatever it is, Apple should fix it soon as they said. Otherwise no criminals would buy iPhone again.

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