I'm going to something so controversial I'm not even sure I fully agree with it, at least not yet. This is complex, nuanced, life, death, and the future of our society stuff, and the absolute last thing I'm going to do is take any of it lightly.
Instead, I'm going to take several things that happened this week, break them down, and then suggest how we as a people can move forward.
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January 14, 2018: Statement from Ring
A Ring spokesperson sent me the following statement on the allegations raised by The Information and The Intercept:
I'd like to see what both The Information and The Intercept have to say regarding this statement and how, if at all, it reconciles with their previous reporting.
"What happens on iPhone, stays on iPhone."
That's the message Apple plastered across CES this year, on an epic, building-sized poster that wasn't just a clever play on "What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas," or clever marketing given the lack of attention they got by not showing up in Vegas last year, but a swift and brutal rohambo on Google, Facebook, and Amazon — Companies that primarily suck up your data to operate on it in the cloud, but also to store and exploit it for their own gain, and in stark contrast to Apple, who has made it a point of both differentiation and pride to keep your data on device to operate on it there, exploiting it not at all.
Some loved it. Others hated it. Some found it spot on. Others found it duplicitous. Some would have preferred Apple to stay away. Others would have preferred Tim Cook show up at the show and deliver the message in person, as a full-on, privacy focused keynote, similar to the one he gave last year at the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners.
Why is any of this even a thing?
Ringing in the New Year
Ring, now owned by Amazon, was yet again caught with it's privacy pants down. Sam Biddle, writing for The Intercept:
According to one source of The Intercept. Another publication, The Information, reported on some of this last month as well, interviewing two dozen current and former dozen employees, and business partners, and reviewed scores of internal documents, presentations, communications, and more.
I'm not sure what "lost revenue opportunities" means here, unless Ring thought watching the video would give them new product ideas or, horrifically, intended to monetize what was coming off those feeds in some way?
So, they didn't just get to see what, they got to know who.
Only an email address was apparently needed to get into anyone's home, which sounds absolutely conspiracy-theory nuts, until you remember Uber was caught doing something similar back in 2016, using a "god-mode" to spy on exes, politicians… Beyonce.
Your location: For Sale. Cheap.
Earlier this week, Vice's Motherboard reported that cell phone carriers had again been caught selling our location data to bounty hunters, debt-collectors, and others. Joseph Cox:
$300 to be exact.
And how does this all work?
And that's just this week. But the stories come out every week. Google and Facebook, so many times. And so much that we risk being desensitize to it. That the horrific risks becoming accepted.
That's what Apple is tackling with its very public, incredibly pro-active stance on privacy. It's betting a large part of its competitiveness and credibility on it.
At the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, Tim Cook used his keynote to advocate for privacy regulation:
Fines are good, fines are great. But so are criminal charges for companies and employees who spy on us and steal our data, or enable violations and abuse, whether it's through a window or doorbell camera, stalking or selling location data.
But that's the government protecting against abuse by companies. What about protecting against abuse by the government?
Everything from the Snowdon disclosures to the FBI's attempt to force Apple to unlock iPhones beyond the scope of any existing laws, the government has proven not just as incapable of self-regulating, but intent on regulating access that would cripple encryption and — no hyperbole, none, zero — destroy functional privacy for everyone.
I don't have an easy answer to that. I only have a hard one — the right to remain private.
The recognition that our devices have become external storage not just for our data but for our minds — our memories, our ideas, our finances, our health records, our diaries, our sex lives, our most personal and private thoughts and dreams.
And, as technology progresses, our external storage will become internalized, and our biological minds will become readable, by some for of cybernetics.
And, if we don't start talking about and preparing for the need to protect ourselves now we'll have a much harder time doing it then.
At the extreme, we should discuss not just the type of privilege extended to spouses, priests, lawyers, and doctors, but the type of rights against self-incrimination some jurisdictions, including the U.S., already holds sacred.
Yes, it will make law enforcement harder, the same way the lack of finger-printing and DNA scanning at birth makes law enforcement harder, but the entire purpose of human and civil rights is to put the interests of the individual before the interests of the state. To make their work harder in order to keep our rights safer.
Some people content the age of privacy is over. That we've lost it and we'll never have it again. Not even the expectation of privacy. That we should just make peace with governments listening in to all our communications, service providers selling all our data, internet companies putting cameras and mics in our bedrooms, living rooms, children's rooms.
That the cost savings and convenience are more than payment enough for stripping us effectively naked and spreading us eagle across the internet.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.