Let me take a walk down Memory Lane. It used to be near One Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA, but it moved down the highway to the Apple Park spaceship campus. Remember the first time you held and used an iPhone? Apple’s executives are fond of using the phrase magical to describe new Apple products, but iPhone fit the bill as one of the very first smartphones that customers actually wanted to use.
Apple hit a home run and the world was changed forever. For good? Or, for bad? As always, it’s a bit of both. Today’s smartphones are more like a touchscreen Mac that fits in the hand and there isn’t much they cannot do. Add creepy to the list. Apple CEO Tim Cook did:
To me, it’s creepy when I look at something and all of a sudden it’s chasing me all the way across the web. I don’t like that…
We see that kind of chasing whenever we search for a product on Google or Amazon or like this or than on Facebook. Whatever we do online is being tracked and often coordinated behind the scenes– where we cannot easily see or determine what is going on– to influence our thinking; either with advertising and promotions, or manipulation with so-called news that is designed to alter our thinking and actions.
How is that not creepy?
So, I think what has to be done is the type of information has to be looked at that companies can hold. I think the connection and sources of data have to be looked at — when you own many different properties… and I can take the information I’ve learned about you from this property, add it to what I learned about you here and here and here. And there’s no reasonable alternative for people… This is not good.
Yet, two of the largest technology companies on planet earth– both funded by enormous revenue and profits from advertising– do exactly that. They track a few billion users, gather data on those users and their online habits, mix and match it all with data captured elsewhere, and allow advertisers and promoters and politicians to manipulate those users to change their behavior.
How is that not creepy?
We can argue that it’s all Facebook or Google’s fault, but blame can be spread around all over the place. Unscrupulous advertisers and data trackers. Unscrupulous politicians. Greed enters into the equation, too, but let’s not forget about how users have a responsibility (how often do you read the Service Terms and Privacy Agreement on a product?).
Tim Cook is right to be somewhat self righteous and worry about the creepy factor, but the reality is this– Apple helps it along. Yes, Apple takes money from Google to make it the default search engine on Safari– so more than 1-billion Apple customers are more easily tracked.
Apple plugs Facebook and Twitter into iOS and makes both easily accessible. Apple allows applications to track usage. Instead of giving back many tens of billions of dollars to unworthy shareholders, Apple could build a private internet– a VPN– only for Apple devices. That would reduce the creepiness factor substantially.
Yeah, technology has become a creepy tool, but Apple could do more to make it a less creepy experience.