I’m sure like most of you, I’ve been waiting for the day when I could declare myself an official expert on some subject or the other because I’d recently played a video game. In my youthful mind’s eye, decades ago, I envisioned such a game as a huge walk-in virtual reality system with wall-sized monitors and fully-emersed game experience.
But as it turns out, you only need a $200 phone and a free app to become an air traffic controller. @NASA has released a new iPhone app (Android version still in development, WTF?) that allows you to manage and alter the trajectory of incoming airplanes in California and Nevada air space. The idea is to demonstrate the need for math skills and patience in dealing with the complex world of air traffic control.
Or, you could just get shit-faced on cheap whiskey, sit in your living room in your undies and intentionally smash planes into one another while listening to Surf Nicaragua at full volume. There does not appear to be anything in the game that prevents this:
NASA – NASA Releases Sector 33 Air Traffic Control Educational Game App.
It seems that the story about Apple’s location tracking has widened quite a bit since going to the Senate and additional hearings have been called:
Apple Location-Tracking Drama Extends to Carriers, Prompts Hearing – Mobile and Wireless – News & Reviews – eWeek.com.
These hearings might possibly lead to some genuinely important and helpful laws to enhance our individual privacy.
But since the word “tracking” is getting used a lot, there is an important point that is likely to get lost in the public debate. That is: it doesn’t matter if Apple or Google (who produce the Android Operating System that powers many other smart phones) or AT&T are “tracking” your location. What matters is that information about your whereabouts for the last year or more are available to… anyone.
I should also point out that smart phones logging nearby wifi locations and other data points makes perfect sense to me as a developer: developers are always looking for the most efficient means of delivering content, the better to enhance the user experience. So, keeping record of the spots the user will likely revisit is a good idea, in a purely theoretical programmatic bubble.
The trouble is: if that data is available and not encrypted in some fashion, then not just the developer but any person with access to your phone can access this data. Bluetooth and wifi make having access to your phone a lot less personal than you might think, too.
I am not writing to raise the red flag of panic, either: very simple measures can solve these problems. Encrypting the data would be sufficient. But if the public debate centers on the companies like Apple “snooping” on their customers, we’ll get sidetracked by trust issues.
The latest in Location Based Services for the iPhone: an app that will find you the nearest marijuana dispensary.