With recent evidence mounting up that governments are using corporations to do their dirty work, it does make me wonder – and want to infer – whether this weekend’s big technology news is an indication of a far wider malaise. The fact that Facebook feels able to happily admit that it’s been spying on smartphone users’ text messages in order to harvest data to allow it to launch its own messaging facility does make me think that perhaps governments are already doing this; and, behind the scenes, this is simply a given which makers and shakers have long been aware of.
A given they are now even comfortable with.
The worst of the story isn’t however just that. The worst is contained in this paragraph:
It claimed that some apps even allow companies to intercept phone calls – while others, such as YouTube, are capable of remotely accessing and operating users’ smartphone cameras to take photographs or videos at any time.
Hardly a surprise, therefore, when a Sunday Times survey of smartphone-user behaviours throws up the fact that almost three-quarters of those questioned never or rarely check out the terms and conditions before installing a program.
So whilst these institutions continue to reap the benefit of intercepting your text messages and phonecalls and taking control of your photos and videos, they are actually doing it with your explicit permission.
Three observations which strike me here: first, isn’t it ironic that it is Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times which – in the week before important revelations are expected at the Leveson inquiry into phone-hacking and media abuse – manages to pull together a report on how these huge technology companies (his sworn enemies in those battles on intellectual property and Internet freedoms that are SOPA, PIPA and ACTA) are potentially abusing their own dominant market positions to trick innocent users into giving up considerable swathes of their privacy?
Which, of course, and despite the conflict of interest, doesn’t mean the report isn’t absolutely right to say what it does.
The second observation? Just imagine it was a government which, say, launched a friendly Direct.gov.uk single-point-of-access app whose terms and conditions allowed it to gather the kind of data and have the kind of control over your phone which Facebook has chirrupingly acknowledged and Google’s YouTube has surreptitiously acquired.
Just imagine, then, the hullabaloo that would be raised. The furore the newspapers would generate in their attacks on the ever-encroaching police state.
Remember what I said about governments getting corporations to do their dirty work? In the light of this and other recent stories, it really wouldn’t surprise me if both had long ago been involved hand-in-glove …
And lastly? Well. It doesn’t half make me shiver to realise that whilst morally unacceptable – and possibly illegal – phone-hacking and voicemail interception was the flavour of the past decade at some British newspapers, our favourite smartphone newspaper apps may one day – if, indeed, this is not already the case – allow their proprietors to legally follow our movements; track our texts; listen in to our calls; and write stories on our activities.
These phones are bloody self-financing, for goodness sake – with all the data we are giving up for nothing. These companies talk about how difficult it is for them to make money on the web – and then they submit us all to the indignity of things like the above.
Perhaps there’s a lesson in that. Perhaps this is the awful consequence of forcing unwieldy corporations to monetise their content in any which way but via direct payments. Or, alternatively, a result of the aforementioned companies being entirely unable to move with the times.
A point worth debating further? Maybe for another post.
The truth of the matter is, and the way it’s now going, we shouldn’t just be getting the content and devices for free …
We shouldn’t just have an inalienable right to be able to chatter, click and browse for zilch …
We should actually be remunerated for reading and using this stuff. Because long-term, and I mean this seriously, we’re not going to be paying for the rest of lives but – rather (the difference is subtle but profound) – with the rest of our lives.
And that’s a thought that really doesn’t bear thinking about.
Now does it?