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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Violation: Your Privacy, your Body, and the Digital Age

There's an interesting bit of legal conundrum brewing. 

First, let's look at the flap from several months back about the iPhone.

The iPhone was "tracking" where you went (see this).  Apple was placing information about your whereabouts in a file called "consolidated.db."

A large hue and cry erupted though Apple's explanation was that it simply was trying to improve its knowledge of wireless hot spots and other features of the phone and wifi world in order to give better service.

The backlash toward Apple was significant and they caved in: modifying the software on the phones (I recall at the time (say fall of last year) all sorts of "update me now!" iTunes notifications about iOS upgrades.  Apple no longer is planning to support collecting of an iPhone's unique identifier in its programming API - all in the name of privacy.

No doubt to cut off potential lawsuits.

On the other hand, in that same time period, GM (now "Government Motors") notified customers that it planned to sell location data collected by its OnStar service to third parties without the consent of those generating the data (though I imagine that your actual name would be replaced by a GUID).

Now as I see it OnStar's actions are no better or worse than Apple's - they are simply invading your privacy to make our collective lives better.

Yet for some reason there seemed to be far less concern in general about the GM situation.

But as I dropped my truck off for service (a Dodge - not a GM) this morning these other events started to make me wonder who "owns" the data in my truck's little (its old) computer.  Or, for example, in something like my son's former Ford Edge which had a large, complex and fancy computer system full of music, data and other goodies.

My truck and my phone are no different I suspect in that regard.

Yet if I am in an accident, or worse, cause an accident, any telemetry data (speed, state of the motor and transmission, and so on) are fair game for lawyers.

I suppose the same is true about my phone.  If I wreck law enforcement can view it to see what, if anything, I was doing at the time of the wreck - and fine me if I was on the phone - or, worse, use the fact that I was on the phone or texting to make me liable for the accident.

So even with the GM OnStar "opt out" my privacy is still really not my privacy.

But what if Apple did what GM does: in their giant, 50-page iPhone/iTunes "agreement" they said "we're going to track everything you do on your iPhone and, even if you opt out of it, sell the data to third parties..."

I am not sure the iPhone would be so popular...

At the end of the day small, cheap GPS-based computers connected to cheap wifi/cellphone systems are by definition a "loss of privacy."

Certainly an unintended consequence of laws intended to make us "safer" by having phone location-able (see this) is that our privacy is invaded.

But it seems that people care little for their own rights or privacy when the convenience of having movies and video playing on the smart phone while driving...

Small cheap computers with GPS and WiFi are changing how we live and work.  And there are even more weird ideas brewing.  For example, Pirate Bay, a Swedish BitTorrent site known for allowing the "sharing" of Hollywood intellectual property recently posted on a blog about building "flying servers" with small, cheap $35 USD computers so that no one could "raid" their site.

But why stop there?

Why not build flying DOS attack drones?  Take small, battery-powered helicopters with attached $35 computers and swoop down and jam internet services or wifi in an enemies building?  Or hide them in bushes?  Or spy on the Wifi (kind of like war driving...)

What about private Wifi signals that pass through my body?  If they are literally "inside" me why can't I make use of them? 

If someone were to invade my body with a physical object it would be a crime. 

Radio waves from a Wifi or cell device are physical as well - high energy photons.

Why are they allowed to penetrate my person freely? 

Aren't they invading my privacy as well?

And to add insult to injury if someone plays a copywritten Hollywood movie over WiFi and it passes through my body I am not even allowed to watch - even though the WiFi photons are the same (just with more energy) as the photons I would see with my eyes...

There is legal presidence for all this as well.  Two hundred years ago the notion of microbes and DNA were unknown - unseen.  Today they preside over the outcomes of may crimes and legal actions.

Certainly if I were to microwave someone I would be a criminal - because microwaves vibrate water molecules to create heat and heat can injure people.  But what if I transmit wireless data through a person?  I penetrate their body with radio waves or put on those radio waves something offensive?

What if I don't want your WiFi radio or content penetrating my person?

Even if they don't cause cancer why is this allowed?

Just because I cannot see these waves does not excuse you - and they affect my physical body as well.

I watched a TV program recently where a the information from a magnetic compass was converted to a vibrating body pack.  A volunteer wore the pack for several weeks during which it created sensations on his skin related to compass directions.  Subliminally he always received information about what direction he was "pointed" or how far he was moving.

After the "training period" the pack was removed.

The volunteer was blindfolded and lead around a course.  Without the previous "training" people led around the course were unable to reproduce where they had be led.

However, supposedly because the volunteer was "trained" to sense the magnetic field of the earth (just like birds and other animals), he was able to reproduce the course.

So just because we don't realize these signals are passing through us does not mean that we could not detect them or their effects if we tried...

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