MEDIA CURRENT: BRUISED APPLE
The shine on Apple’s corporate identity has been tarnished. For a period following Steve Jobs’ death after a long bout with pancreatic cancer, the company was in a national media halo, celebrated for its innovative technology as much for its stock performance. As indies long knew, the iMac and Final Cut Pro editing software revolutionized movie making.
However, a January 2012 in-depth New York Times exposé about Apple’s manufacturing practices in China undercut the Jobs halo and gave the company a black eye. The report on its Chinese manufacturer, Foxconn, exposed Apple’s questionable business practices as well as those of a slew of leading high-tech companies, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony and Toshiba. More troubling, the Times’ report opened up a growing number of revelations about Apple’s practices that compromise user privacy.
Early this month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued warnings to Apple over its iPhone and iPad as well as Google’s Android OS over apparent violation heir respective apps developers of children’s privacy rights. In its report, “Mobile Apps for Kids,” it examined 8,000 mobile applications designed for children and found that parents couldn’t safeguard the personal information that the app maker collected.
One iPhone app, Path, offered by a Singapore developer, downloaded an iPhone users’ entire address book without alerting them. Prodded by a letter from Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said the company will ensure that app developers get permission before downloading a user’s address book.
Some privacy advocates warn that a similar functionality could be found in social networking services like Twitter, FourSquare, Instagram and FoodSpotting. In response, these services said they would update their functions to make the process clearer to users.
This challenge followed a series of earlier revelations about still other questionable practices involving Apple’s mobile OS. Sen. Al Franken exposed one involving Carrier IQ’s software, CIQ, during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He reminded his fellow Americans, “People have a fundamental right to control their private information.”
In addition, two suits were filed in 2011 challenging Apple over how it collects and exploits data gathered from users of its mobile devices. One suit claims that Apple lets advertisers track what apps users download, how long the programs are used and how often used. The other suit argues that app owners sell user information to ad networks, including user’s location, age, gender, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political views, without their consent. Among the co-defendants with Apple are Pandora, Paper Toss, the Weather Channel and Dictionary.com.
On Feb. 23rd, the White House issued a long-awaited report outlining a framework for personal cyber privacy, “Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Global Innovation in the Global Digital Economy.” Billing itself a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,” the report stresses the need for transparency, security, accuracy and a reasonable limits to what is collected. Whether this will become a new legal standard is an open question.
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David Rosen is a writer and business-development consultant — and a Mac user. He is author of the indie classic, Off-Hollywood: The Making & Marketing of Independent Films (Grove), originally commissioned by the Sundance Institute and the Independent Feature Project. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com and www.DavidRosenConsultants.com.