Call me old fashioned, but the rash of new "geo-aware" iPhone apps has me a bit concerned. I hadn't heard much about them until my girlfriend called me detailing how sick she was of seeing constant iPhone commercials on TV and described a new one which details how the phone will let you know "where all your friends are all the time". We're not talking a business name entered in some text box; we're talking the exact address via GPS information.
Digging into this phenomenon, there are multiple new social networks, including Limbo and Loopt designed for the iPhone. Many of these apps use GPS to help track your location and even categorize what you are doing by the nature of your location. Furthermore, some, such as Loopt, give your information to strangers when in settings like the bar or parties. If strangers have an iPhone and are sharing, you can find out their name and if they're single.
Again, call me paranoid, but I see a lot of trouble coming out of these "brilliant" new features. Human interaction is fundamentally based on acquaintance. Psychotic behavior, such as stalking, theft, rape, or murder are relatively rare, but are still common enough that humans need the blanket of familiarity to help protect them from strangers, something that is instilled in children at a young age.
But what about the fact that many violent crimes, perhaps the majority, are committed by someone you know? This is indeed true, but this neglects the fact that the human concept of acquaintance decreases the number of victims of violent crime from a stranger.
As these kinds of applications expand to track your location in more of a continuous fashion many other problems also arise. For one, such applications may increase the risk of violent crime from those familiar with you by tracking your location at all times. Some hesitate to commit such crimes for fear of getting caught, but if you could always know where someone is, some may take advantage of this to catch people in isolated locations. This may also complicate law enforcement efforts.
However, perhaps the worst thing about these kinds of apps is that they will lead to many more unassuming conflicts due to their erasure of privacy. Imagine how many relationships may end because someone finds that there significant other is not where they say. How many guys will now get an earful after going out to eat with business partners and really going to a strip club? Such scenarios sound silly, but they could become very real.
I know that the simple answer is don't adopt it if you don't want to share. This is true; nothing is forcing you to share. However, with the iPhone the new bestselling phone in America, these apps are reaching a large audience. If the majority ever adopts such practices, it will become difficult to refuse to reveal your name and location whether you want to or not, for fear of ostracism.
Similar concerns arose when RFID implants in humans were considered a possible vision of the future. However, the medical problems surrounding such implants nixed them from becoming widespread. However, these same problems have quickly reappeared in a very different form.
Apple is free to make its own business decisions, but if it’s going to cut apps, perhaps it should consider whether to allow these apps which compromise both privacy and security. Further users should question whether they really want to promote such a trend, and the implications it might have on our society. Track apps for the iPhone aren't the end of the world, but they don't seem like a very good thing, either.
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