The news that Apple was collecting location-based service data was not met with pleasure by some in Congress, hence the tech company's summons to Washington to explain. Last week it gave a detailed response [pdf] to questions posed by Representative Joe Barton (D, Texas) and Edward Markey (D, Mass), which was subsequently released.
In short, Apple is not tracking individuals with the data. "When a customer's device sends Wi-Fi, cell tower, GPS, or diagnostic location information to Apple, it does not include any information identifying the particular device or user," Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell said. Information that is collected is maintained for six months. Location-based data that is passed on to partners is converted into zip codes (via Mac Observer).
Apple also confirmed users can opt out of sharing location-based information by not agreeing to the policy changes - which is an unlikely option for many as it means they won’t be able to create an iTunes Store account. But users can disable location-based services on the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad by going to Settings > General > Location Services, and turning the feature off on a per-app basis or system-wide, Mac Observer says.
In the Year 2054
Such precautions may well be viewed as downright quaint over the next few decades if futuristic visions described by Mark Cuban in his Maverick blog comes to pass. Cuban tells of a company that takes video of an area and is able to determine exactly how many people are in the area at any given time. The next logical extension would be to install it in places where it is possible to add facial recognition software, he said - making it an ideal app for companies that are using check ins for their marketing and customer outreach.
"So rather than someone checking in to a specific application, we would already know you are there." 'Opt out' mechanisms would be necessary, he acknowledged, and there would probably be a battle "over whether or not a store or venue should be 'opt in' vs automated recognition, but that's not a software issue."
The reality is this is the answer to the "the path of least resistance" issue with check-ins for location-based software, he continued. "Individuals never do any of the work. The store/host recognizes you are there and rewards you for allowing your identity and information to be captured and linked."
If this sounds a little too much like Minority Report, the Tom Cruise movie set in 2054 that is because there are some distinct similarities, says TechCrunch, which estimates it could take as long as ten years for such an application to come to market. Briefly, in the Steven Spielberg movie Minority Report, the main character John Anderton is walking through a public mall and a retina scanner picks up his eye signature and offers him advertisements customized to his tastes and previous purchases . Interestingly, Spielberg hired a team of futurists to come up with technology that is likely to be in place all those years from now, TechCrunch says. Even when the technology arrives, TechCrunch speculates, society will have to be eased into accepting it, perhaps with some interim applications.
Friending By Facial Recognition
The use of facial recognition is starting to creep in to social media use, however, suggesting that some people, at least, are comfortable with its use in such venues. Comverse released an app in which it married social marketing with facial recognition software to create what it said was the first ever socially augmented reality tool. Unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the beginning of the year, the app uses facial recognition algorithms and a database of images to link a particular face with an appropriate profile, writes Intomobile. Comverse also billed the application as a tool to be used for dealing with acquaintances, "practically connecting people before they even know each other's names. If you bump into someone who you met before and he or she looks familiar but you can't remember why, the app will locate that person's online profile to put a name to the face."