Apple Computer announced iBeacon, a system for determining one’s location with great precision. The system has small, quarter-sized emitters, that can be placed in stores, malls, government buildings, airports & bus stations, anywhere. They emit a low-power local signal that your iPhone and other smart phones detect and respond to. Your precise location is thus determined and transmitted back to a central point, and from there to who knows whom. Unbeknownst to most people, your iPhone can also act as an iBeacon transmitter, thereby using our iPhones to build the network.
Apple advocates this as a consumer benefit for shoppers. Discount coupons will simply pop up on your smart phone at relevant points as you walk around a store or mall. Is this something consumers actually want? Or is this a cover story for a new layer of surveillance?
This article makes it clear: It is not a feature demanded by consumers. “Consumers hate the idea of retailers tracking them through their smartphones. Overwhelmingly so, in fact: As I noted yesterday, a new survey from OpinionLab shows 77% of respondents found in-store tracking unacceptable; 63% said even if their favorite store offered tracking services, they would opt out.”
But can you opt out? iPhones offer a very useful “Find my iPhone” app to locate and track lost iPhones and iPads. To use this feature, you must enable “Location Services” in the preferences settings. From what I can tell, this goes much further than just supporting the app by authorizing Apple to track your iPhone and enable iBeacon, since there is no separate iBeacon preference setting. In other words, there is no way to get the benefit of the one app without opting into the surveillance system. Was that why the app was created in the first place?
Uncharacteristically, Apple was particular aggressive in getting iPhone and iPad users to upgrade to the latest version of its iOS operating system. It made the upgrade free, heavily promoted it, and forced an upgrade if you wished to fix the most recently discovered iOS security breach. In fact, Apple brags about a conversion rate of over 90% of the installed base. In addition, yesterday I learned that Apple is also forcing users to upgrade the “Find my iPhone” app if they wish to continue using it. My guess is these forced upgrades are designed to rapidly spread the use of iBeacon.
Apple was first to make it impossible to turn off its portable devices, first by making the on/off switch a software controlled function that leaves the device in an “On” albeit standby state, then by making it impossible to remove the batteries. This has been extended to its Macbook Air, which also sports non-removable batteries that are in fact glued to the computer.
Is Apple coming out with new features, such as fingerprint ID, to serve the interests of the public? Or to create a surveillance network and disguise it as serving the public’s needs, sometimes thinly so?
You might want to reconsider whose smart-phones and smart-pads you purchase in the future.