What iPhone Geolocation Means To You

Recently there has been a lot of talk about privacy and your iPhone. The blogging community has been a buzz with Orwellian images of “Big Brother” tracking every detail of your daily life and basking in the glow of the increased advertising revenue all those clicks bring. The mainstream media has piled on like a pack of hungry hyenas and even congress is getting into the act. In typical media style, once all the hype has been wrung out of the story and all the bloggers have beat their collective chests, the average user is left dazed, confused, and maybe a bit paranoid.

Magical Devices

Inscribed upon the cover of the most remarkable book ever to have come out of the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor are these two words– Don’t Panic. Like The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, our iPad’s and iPhone’s are devices that seem at once both magical and scary. But, before you start contemplating how you are going to cut yourself off from the grid, I’d like to remind you of two simple truths.

The first is Clarke’s Third Law. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The second is that even the “great and powerful OZ” turned out to be just a man behind a curtain. If you inoculate your mind with these two axioms they will act as a vaccine against the FUD so prevalent in today’s media.

Reality Is Boring

So where does this leave us? Can Apple track our every move? Do they compile vast lists of the minutiae of our lives? Do they know how much toilet paper we use?

The answer is no (although, according to The Toilet Paper Encyclopedia the average person uses 8.6 sheets of toilet paper per trip; makes you wonder doesn’t it?). Apple has released a statement about this issue, which you can read here. For those of you who want the executive summary, here it is. The situation was caused by a combination of software bugs and a lack communication about how Apple is using a new technology. See, I told you it was boring.

You Are Not Scott Free

Just because Apple isn’t using your iPhone or iPad to track you, doesn’t mean someone else can’t. For example, Apple’s Find My iPhone could be used to discover the whereabouts of an iPhone or iPad. Although I am not aware of any real world cases, there is no reason this app couldn’t be used by a suspicious spouse, private investigator, or government agency to find the location of your phone.

To Worry. Or Not To Worry?

That is the question. Here is my answer. Personally I like the idea of being able to find my phone if it is lost or stolen. While I have concerns about Police making a habit of yanking data off the phone of anyone they pull over, I feel that this is best left to the courts and ACLU to fight about. Since I’m not running contraband, cheating on my wife, or leading some sort of secret double life — I’m not concerned about Find My iPhone. I freely admit that I might be sticking my head in the sand, and down playing the risks. So for those of you who feel strongly about this issue here is what I suggest. Once the next iOS update comes out, download it, install it, and then turn off all location services. Further, when asked if you wish to use a location service touch the do not use button. That should reduce your exposure while allowing you to keep your phone.

About Chris Barczys

Chris has spent over 20 years integrating Apple technologies into the business and personal lives of those around him. From humble beginnings as a fry cook at McDonalds he has held positions ranging from sales to CIO. At age 18 he opened his first consulting firm, Computec Consulting. After seven years in consultancy, he accepted an offer to become CIO for Pacific Turbine Support, a position he held for over 10 years. With the closing of Pacific Turbine Support, he decided to return to his consultancy roots and is currently “The Head Genius” of Personal Mac Geniuses. He is also proud to be serving as a board member of the Oceanside Mac User Group.