By Greg Mills
When you buy a TV set, you expect to be able to tune it in to any channel you want to view. Certainly, that right to view content is based upon either getting your signal over the air (which is really a declining market) or by cable. You wouldn’t expect the manufacturer of the TV to electronically reach out and disable some feature of your TV set. Most TVs don’t require system updates and all the capacities of the device are hardwired in.
When you buy a computer, smartphone or tablet computer the arm of the manufacturer is much longer. System updates allow features to be added and killed when you accept the updated operating system. Changes can be minor, such as the software fix allowing iPad to use the slider switch to either lock the screen into landscape or portrait format or mute the sound. One expects changes in the device when you choose to update the OS.
Some Internet TV sets are beginning to bridge the gap and are taking on more features previously requiring computers. If they have RAM and Internet access, they can be updated. Video game consoles are a good example of this sort of long-term relationship between the gamer and the platform.
What is more surprising is that both Apple and Google have a backdoor into your smart phone and tablet device that they can use to actually delete apps that fall out of favor. While Apple hasn’t actually used the iOS “kill switch” yet, Google has been forced to use it twice due to Android malware that threatened the platform. Apple runs a far tighter ship than Google does.
Actually, remotely wiping the entire memory is a feature business demands because secret business information might leak out if a smartphone or computer were to be lost or stolen. In case the computer is stolen, completely locking the thing down to render it useless is a feature that might make sense.
Photographing the thief and emailing the picture back to the owner is even more cool. Location data remotely tracked would allow both the picture and current location of the thief to be given to the police. Yet, what sounds really cool when it is a thief’s privacy we are talking about, when the very same thing can be done to the legal owner by the police or others, it becomes much more sinister.
Really, the tech question of the month is where to draw the line. On one side we have the privacy of the owner and user of the device and on the other side of that line are platform security, national security and police powers. Whew! Drawing the line somewhere down the middle is going to take some time and a lot of input. The Congress and the courts along with the big powers in the tech industry have a big job ahead of them
As a conservative libertarian sort of guy, I would like to see the line drawn much closer to the TV set model than the George Orwellian big brother situation that seems to be evolving. While having the power and the right to make preferences that limit location data from being stored on our iPhones and iPads is a great start; the incredible amount of personal data held on smartphones and iPads is a potential privacy problem we all must face.
As an inventor, I sometimes have “work product” on my devices that I have not yet filed with the US Patent Office. Under the previous “first to invent rule” the inventor who can prove they invented a certain thing gets the patent over the first person to file. The patent system common to Europe and now the US is that the first person to file gets the patent, period. That means if my iPad or iPhone is lost or stolen someone could steal my invention as well as my device.
Encryption, passwords and other security measures are possible, but somewhat burdensome. Privacy is certainly a word that is being defined right now as it applies to data. Let’s demand a definition of privacy that is fitting with our national heritage.
Thats Greg’s Bite.
(Greg Mills is currently a graphic and Faux Wall Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. Greg is an Extra Class Ham Radio Operator, AB6SF, iOS developer and web site designer. He’s also working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process for turning waste dual pane glass window units into thermal solar panels used to heat water see: www.CottageIndustrySolar.com Married, with one daughter, Greg writes for intellectual property web sites and on Mac/Tech related issues. See Greg’s art web site at http://www.gregmills.info He can be emailed at email@example.com )