Just when you thought it was safe to go back online there’s word that home appliances are capturing usage data. Appliances? Are we talking refrigerator, microwave, washers, and dryers? Almost. In this case it’s the Roomba vacuum cleaner that wanders around your house all day, ostensibly scooping up dirt and debris, but also mapping out your home.
Meanwhile, ever the stalwart backer of personal privacy and security, Apple, Inc. decided to do China’s governmental bidding and ban unauthorized VPN apps from the iOS App Store. On the one hand, a simple appliance has home mapping capability, while on the other hand the world’s foremost gadget maker puts iPhone sales above customer privacy.
Am I being too simplistic here?
Maybe, maybe not. Clearly, Apple has chosen a legal tightrope by doing what the Chinese government wants. No unauthorized virtual private network (VPN) apps in the App Store. Just as clearly, that seemingly simple but obviously cleverly designed roaming vacuum cleaner can map out everything in your home, and with some clever data manipulation, might be able to determine the type of carpet or hardwood floors, the brand of your kitchen appliances, and from that data determine more about your buying habits, and then extrapolate how much money you make, then combine it with easily obtainable data online, build a highly detailed personal profile.
It’s not that farfetched.
Roomba claims they won’t sell data about your home. OK, but could that data be stolen and used by someone else. Why is the data being collected in the first place?
What could go wrong.
Everything. That’s what Murphy’s Law is all about, folks. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. It’s difficult enough to keep yourself as private as you want without your appliances spying on you, collecting data, and making decisions on how to interact with you in the future based upon some personal profile that could just as easily be stolen by hackers.
Where is Apple in this?
We probably knew this day was coming because much of the world is lurching toward the right where the rich get richer and the dumber you are the better for the rich. China just clamped down on VPN apps and Russia did the same. England, Australia, and other countries want to have unfettered access to your iPhone’s private and encrypted information.
We’re under assault by authorities and entities the world over but at least we always had Apple, right? Well, spin Apple’s acquiescence to China’s authorities however you want, but Chinese citizens could download and use various VPN apps last week and this week– thanks to Apple– they cannot.
What’s next? Messages and FaceTime? Both are encrypted end-to-end and both remain available to iPhone and iPad users in China while Facebook’s own WhatsApp is banned. How long before Apple capitulates entirely and opens up everything to the Chinese government (which, by the way, allows Apple to manufacture iPhones and iPads in China– for now, which creates an impetus for making iPhones in the U.S.).
Precedents are important. When that happens we’ll know it could happen elsewhere and just as quickly. Beware. The future is coming and there are parts of it we may not like.