The Washington Post

iPhone and iPad track users’ movement. Do we care?

(Amy Sancetta)

And we should have seen this coming. After all, this is when SkyNet was scheduled to take over. I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords!

Privacy is so 1997. We care so little about privacy that we are actively telling everyone, everywhere, what we are doing at all times. Nothing says, “Hey, I have an extremely limited desire to keep things private” like “This is my exact movement pattern and my taste in music! Click here for my diary of inmost thoughts and some photos of my home.” There are two sides to this: We want to be Somebody, and we want to have access to Things That Are Cool. The more you share about yourself, the more outrageously you dress and behave in public, and the more stories you tell about it on your blog, the more likely you are to turn into — or at least have people mistake you for — Someone. And the more you tell it about where you are and what you like, the more accurately the Internet can tell you Things That Are Cool.

If you ask most iPhone owners whether they’d be willing to let their movements be tracked in exchange for a magical device capable of taking pictures, recommending restaurants, playing Angry Birds and not dropping several calls, they’d probably have to think about it.

This is the problem with things like the Do Not Track initiative.

Don’t track? Please! If you don’t track, how will you know what I like? “But privacy is worth paying the price of not having personalized advertising!” people yell. But is it? If it weren’t for targeted advertising, I wouldn’t know these existed! Privacy is Gone With The Wind — incidentally a movie that Netflix has just recommended.

And personal privacy? Sure, celebrities complain about being unable to walk outdoors to, say, purchase grain-free bagels for their elephants, but that’s the price you pay for celebrity. And we’d pay almost any price.

And I’m not alone in this. Even when it gets invasive, many prefer to be noticed. Men in London’s Tube have been getting their pictures taken by stealthy subway riders, who post them on the site Their response? “5% demeaned, 35% flattered, 60% surprised.” Only 5 percent? We can live with that.

It’s almost as though we’re actively avoiding privacy.

Phone taps? Who talks on the phone anymore? Track our movements? Why not! Tap our browsing habits? Sure. We’re relying on the kindness of strange advertisers.

The Internet is a war among privacy, functionality and attention. It’s been so for a long time.

And let’s just say I wouldn’t bet on privacy.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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