Apple, Google: Invasions of privacy or business as usual?

Industry in dustup over mobile location collection

So. Both Apple and Google are collecting and storing location data from our iPhone 4's and HTC Androids, according to The Wall Street Journal. Presumably, the companies want to build big databases that could be used for any number of location-based services that they could profit from.

I guess I should be outraged. But mostly I'm curious: Why does this come as such a surprise?

IN THE NEWS: iPhones secretly stashing history of your location | Apple iPhone location tracking has been no secret, researcher claims

The world has become a big gob of connections. We discuss the location-based benefits of wireless ones in the press and elsewhere every day -- from getting GPS directions to avoiding traffic jams and finding expensive assets (sometimes including people). Every time we realize new benefits with technology there are accompanying tradeoffs. It goes with the territory.

Little by little, by continuing to buy, use and depend on technology, we continue to vote in favor of giving up a little something in order to get something. That's been the ebb and flow of "progress" for a long time, most notably since the start of the Industrial Revolution and on through the digital age.

The cellphone companies can already track where you've been by using everyday triangulation capabilities. They can use this information to help you find a signal, supply it if they are subpoenaed, and, should they choose to, use it for any number of less noble purposes.

And I remember Google actually stating back in 2005 as it lobbied the Mountain View, Calif., City Council to offer free municipal Wi-Fi throughout the city that it wanted to collect a lot of data about where people went. The reason Google gave was that it thought local advertising might be beneficial to advertisers and consumers alike. That theory is starting to prove in, particularly as cellphones gain the ability to make mobile payments and capture in-store coupons in retail stores.

Granted, data collection without express permission feels like a violation of something, and perhaps it is. But we've been on a very slippery slope between technology advances and loss of freedoms for a long, long time.

I've just come to expect that, based on the number of intrusions coming from so many sources all day long, information about me is out there and it's being used. I expect that to intensify, not wane.

Let's hope Apple and Google intend to track societal trends and peak activity times and plug that info into new, useful applications. Maybe they are stepping over the line, but don't kid yourself. As long as we have this magical tool called the Internet, it will be used both beneficially and deleteriously, just as most forms of technology always have been, whether intentional or not.

Learn more about this topic

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iPhones secretly stashing history of your location

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