You’re building glass houses on the sand
Then you stand around and shake your head
When they all fall down
From Glass Houses by Steel Magnolias
So the big tech and style news this month, in case you missed it, was Apple’s hyperbole laden and new(ish) iPhone 4s and iOS5. This baby boasts everything better, faster and smarter (Siri notwithstanding) than the old school iPhone 4. Including this swell new(ish) app called Find My Friends which is described in Slashgear thusly [emphasis mine].
The free app, which uses GPS to locate your friends and family and, if the privacy settings mash correctly, display them on a map in real-time, can be found here.
But as Aahz the Pervect was wont to say “Therein lies the story”. That deal about privacy settings should be a clue [hint - turn them all off]. There’s even an interesting thread on MacRumors making it’s way around the blogosphere with a tale to make divorce lawyers weep. In agony or ecstasy depending on which side they represent.
I got my wife a new 4s and loaded up find my friends without her knowing. She told me she was at her friends house in the east village. I’ve had suspicions about her meeting this guy who live uptown. Lo and behold, Find my Friends has her right there.
Regardless of the veracity of the post, I posit the following question: Who really thinks it’s a good idea to have everyone know exactly (within 10 meters) where you are at all times? I can think of a number of folks, in addition to suspicious spouses, who love this idea including:
- Law Enforcement – rounding up the usual suspects has never been easier
- Burglars who prefer victims to be elsewhere than the location being burgled – saves all that unpleasantness associated with being surprised by irate property owners.
- Employers who want to verify that employees are actually working from home – or really at the dentist instead of interviewing for another job.
Now certainly there might be situations where this feature would have a non-nefarious or even beneficial usage, like say finding a missing child. I’m just doubtful that would work in a serious situation like say kidnapping. Unless the kidnapper was stupid enough to keep the phone, like say users of Find My Friends.
You see, here’s the deal – owning a smart phone or other GPS-enabled mobile device is like hiding in a glass house. Unless you take extraordinary measures anyone can find you. At any time. Problem is most users of the aforementioned devices have no idea how exposed they are by default – not to mention what happens when they use an app like Find My Friends.
About now you may be thinking, “Yeah, well maybe that’s true, but everybody knows that privacy has been dead since 1999 so deal with it”, channeling Scott McNealy’s infamous comment. Or even “You shouldn’t be worried about privacy unless you have something to hide”.
And that, my friend, is what concerns me. When everyone accepts this truism and becomes willing to trade their privacy – and ultimately their liberty to disagree with whatever authority is currently watching – for slick but useless diversions there will be serious consequences.
We may not be able to do anything about our modern life in glass houses. But at least we can try to hide without constantly screaming our location.