The internet is starting to realize something unsettling: our iPhones send information about the people we know to private servers, often without our permission. Some offending apps are fixing themselves. Some aren’t. But the underlying problem is much bigger.
Apple allows any app to access your address book at any time—it’s built into the iPhone’s core software. The idea is to make using these apps more seamless and magical, in that you won’t have dialog boxes popping up in your face all the time, the way Apple zealously guards your location permissions at an OS level—because fewer clicks mean a more graceful experience, right? Maybe, but the consequence is privacy shivved and consent nullified. Your phone makes decisions about what’s okay to share with a company, whose motivation is, ultimately, making money, without consulting you first.
Once you peel back that pretty skin of your phone and observe the software at work—we used a proxy application called Charles—watching the data that jumps between your phone and a remote server is plain. A little too plain. What can we see?
As Paul Haddad, the developer behind the popular Twitter client TapBot pointed out to me, some of App Store’s shiniest celebrities are among those that beam away your contact list in order to make hooking up with other friends who use the app smoother. From Haddad’s own findings:
Foursquare (Email, Phone Numbers no warning)
Path (Pretty much everything after warning)
Instagram (Email, Phone Numbers, First, Last warning)
Facebook (Email, Phone Numbers, First, Last warning)
Twitter for iOS (Email, Phone Numbers, warning)
Voxer (Email, First, Last, Phone numbers, warning)
Foursquare and Instagram have both recently updated to provide a much clearer warning of what you’re about to share. Which every single app should follow, providing clear warnings before they touch your contacts. But plenty of apps aren’t so generous. “A lot of other popular social networking apps send some data,” says Haddad, “mostly names, emails, phone numbers.” Instapaper, for example, transmits your address book’s email listings when you ask it to “search contacts” to connect with other friends using the app. The app never makes it clear that my data (shown up top) is leaving the phone—and once it’s out of your hands and in Instagram’s, all you can do is trust that it’ll be handled responsibly. You know, like not be stored permanently without your knowledge.
Trust is all we’ve got, and that’s not good. “Once the data is out of your device there’s no way to tell what happens to it,” explains Haddad. Companies might do the decent thing and delete your data immediately. Like Foursquare, which says it doesn’t store your data at all after matching your friends, and never has. Twitter keeps your address book data for 18 months “to make it easy for you and your contacts to discover each other on Twitter after you’ve signed up,” but can delete the data at any time with a link at the bottom of this page. Or a company might do the Path thing, storing that information indefinitely until they’re publicly shamed into doing otherwise. Or worse.
We need a solution, and goodwill on the part of app devs is going to cut it. All the ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS? dialog boxes in the world won’t absolve Apple’s decision to hand out our address books on a pearly platter. iOS is the biggest threat to iOS—and nothing short of a major revision to the way Apple allows apps to run through your contacts should be acceptable. But is that even enough? Maybe not.
Jay Freeman, developer behind the massively popular jailbroken-iPhone program Cydia, doesn’t think Apple’s hand is enough to definitively state who gets your address book, and when:
“Neither Apple nor the application developer is in a good position to decide that ahead of time, and due to this neither Apple’s model of ‘any app can access the address book, no app can access your recent calls’, nor Google’s method of ‘developer claims they need X, take it or leave it’ is sufficient.”
Freeman’s solution? Cydia’s “one-off modifications to the underlying operating system” that we deal in, nicely transfers this control back to the user.” In other words, we can’t trust Apple or the people that make apps—so let’s just trust ourselves to control how iOS works.
Freeman left us with one, final, disquieting note. Shrewd devs and others with the knowhow have been able to dig through app traffic to find out of they’re shoveling around your address book. But there’s no easy way to do this—and if a dev really wants to sneak your data through the door, there’s technically nothing we can do to stop him: “There are tons of complex tricks that can be used to smuggle both information in network traffic and computation itself.” It’s a problem fundamental to computer science—once the data’s in a dev’s hands, he can conjure it away, too small to be noticed by App Store oversight in churning sea of other apps.
Unless Apple keeps him from getting that information in the first place by letting us all make informed decisions with our phone and the private life poured into it. Your move, iOS.
One year and—barely—nine months. That’s what it has taken Apple to invade 19 percent of the total US portable game market, while the PSP sunk from 20% to 11%, and the Nintendo dropped 5%. And that’s only revenue.
Taking into consideration that games in the App Store are cheaper than in the PSP and Nintendo, and that 30,000 titles have been released since its July 2008 launch, I wonder if the actual unit sales figures are quite larger.
In the general gaming category, Apple has taken over 5% of the market, while the rest of the portables have increased to 24% from 20% and the home console market has dropped to 71% from 79%. Knowing about these sharp increases—and knowing that iPhone games are still in their infancy—it’s not surprise that game developer are choosing the iPhone en masse.
Get ready, because this one may get big: 44% of all iPad applications being tested on the actual device are games. Hey Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, the iPhone/iPod titan is getting its tentacles all over the living room.
The iPhone/iPod monster has positioned itself as the preferred mobile gaming platform for developers and is quickly becoming one of the largest game platforms in the planet, with 75 million iPhone OS devices sold in just 2.5 years. The current king of all game platforms sold 125 million units of the much cheaper Nintendo DS in five years and two months.
Now Apple is moving the action into the living room. Would gaming be one of main purposes of the iPad? Would the iPad become the next casual home gaming juggernaut, like the Wii? The market will tell in time, but apparently developers think that the possibility is there. Their reasoning seems solid: The iPhone/iPod demonstrated that you don’t need buttons and a d-pad to offer a good gaming experience to most people (not only hardcore gamers). It’s the same road first taken by the Nintendo DS and then the Wii. Both have a big amount of incredibly successful games that don’t use buttons at all and require little involvement and time. In fact, it seems like consumers—not hardcore gamers—favor that kind of interaction, along with games that can be easily shared and enjoyed by a few people at the same time.
The iPad Sharing Factor
Like the iPhone/iPod Touch, the iPad is a continuation of this road. Unlike its handheld brothers, however, the bigger screen of the iPad is good to share the game experience with other people. I can easily picture two or three people sitting together on a sofa, playing with one iPad, passing it around in turns. I can also imagine multiple iPads in the same household, and people playing networked games in separate screens. Or people around a table, playing a board game touching the iPad and using their iPhones. Except this board game would have spectacular graphics and be fully animated. And perhaps have remote players connected too.
Given the general direction of the market and the possibilities of the platform, it’s not surprising that game developers are pushing so hard for the iPad. It’s yet to be seen if the Apple device would be a success or not, but having such a developer support is going to play a big role. The fact is that developers are betting that it will be a success in the gaming department. 44% is a huge figure, especially considering that the next category—entertainment—only grabs 14%. And especially considering that this is a completely unknown device. They don’t have too much to lose, since the games can target both the iPad and the iPhone/iPod Touch.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for a fully-networked Tron light cycle game for the iPad, with each device being a bike cockpit. [Business Week]
Dr. Augustine Fou is Digital Consigliere to marketing executives, advising them on digital strategy and Unified Marketing(tm). Dr Fou has over 17 years of in-the-trenches, hands-on experience, which enables him to provide objective, in-depth assessments of their current marketing programs and recommendations for improving business impact and ROI using digital insights.
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