iPhone story & how kids’ ‘champions’ in Congress pay attention

By Anne Collier

This week’s big iPhone tracking story offers a great example of how lawmakers don’t seek out and react to the best information on kid safety available – and, of course, why parents need to take politicians’ pronouncements on the subject with a grain of salt. Too often they are protecting their own interests more than they’re protecting children. This week Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass) published a statement “urging Congress to force Apple to disclose the use of its location services, so families can protect their children from sexual predators,” PC Magazine reports, adding that if the congressman had been following the story about the iPhone tracking controversy, he’d “know by now that it would be extremely difficult for a stalker to find [a child] with the phone’s location-tracking features.” Maybe the congressman just liked the “cleverness” of his message and decided to stick with it. In a statement, he wrote that “Apple needs to ensure that an iPhone doesn’t become an iTrack, and an iTrack doesn’t become an iTragedy.” PC Magazine says an “iTragedy” is “unlikely for three main reasons. One, the location data collected is imprecise and unreliable…. Two, it’s easy to cover your tracks [see this about that]…. And three, there is so far zero evidence that criminals are using the iPhone location data to commit crimes.”

None of which is to say that the iPhone’s ability to track and store users’ location data isn’t a privacy concern. Apple finally released a statement about the iPhone’s storage of users’ location information, and “despite insisting that it’s innocent of any accusations of tracking users, Apple says it plans to issue a software update soon that will change how much data is stored (just seven days’ worth, which will be encrypted), will end caching this data when the device is synced, and will actually cease if users turn off location services,” ReadWriteWeb reports. “In the end, Apple seems to be agreeing with what we first thought of the consolidated.db file: more negligence than nefariousness.” [See also “Your Smartphone Is Tracking You, But Don’t Worry,” in which Sree Sreenivasan, a professor of digital media at Columbia Journalism School, says “this tracking is neither new nor necessarily bad,” according to NPR.]

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