Wednesday 20 April 2011

I'm sorry, where did you say you were again?

I've just watched the web explode as someone finally put 'Apple are collecting data on your whereabouts' into terms a layman could understand. I could have added 'without you knowing about it' but you know what? I'm going to take a guess here and say if any of us had bothered to read the User Agreement when we signed up to the latest lot of terms and conditions for iTunes, we would have known.

But of course we don't. 

Except if you go digging. Which, if you bother to, reveals some interesting information. The first exhibit is the latest Apple iTunes Privacy policy. At best it can be described as wooly, containing as it does such phrases as:

 we may collect a variety of information, including your name, mailing address, phone number, email address, contact preferences, and credit card information.

Further reading further reveals:

 In the U.S., we may ask for your Social Security number (SSN) but only in limited circumstances such as when setting up a wireless account and activating your iPhone or when determining whether to extend commercial credit.

An SSN in the States is the equivalent, I think, of our NI numbers. Pretty personal stuff, sort of the equivalent of our NI numbers. No mention made of any security measures which will be taken to protect this information should you be stupid enough to give your SSN to a music service.

Onwards and we find a section on how Apple use personal information. It's not pretty:

From time to time, we may use your personal information to send important notices, such as communications about purchases and changes to our terms, conditions, and policies. Because this information is important to your interaction with Apple, you may not opt out of receiving these communications.

You may not opt out.  One assumes then, that it's not enough to force me to agree a new term and condition whenever I use iTunes or download an app on my iPhone. No. Apple want us to agree to any new terms and conditions quickly, because of course it's in their interest to, and so they demand permission to email you whenever they wish to tell you this. Despite there being a perfectly adequate alternative to it.

It gets worse - Disclosure to Third Parties;

At times Apple may make certain personal information available to strategic partners that work with Apple to provide products and services, or that help Apple market to customers.

Who are these strategic partners? May we know whether this includes the aforementioned SSN? No we may not. 

Think this is appalling? Be glad that most of you reading this are in the United Kingdom. You get different Terms of Service to the US and they're much better than the US's in some ways. Apple can't terminate your iTunes account on a whim with no justification.

By this point, I suspect some of you might be a little bit cross with Apple.

Don't be.

You agreed to the Terms of Service. Chances are, you just didn't read them. Don't be mad at Apple, don't be mad at them destroying your illusion of trust on the internet. Instead ask yourself this:

If I'm not bothering to read the Terms of Service, does it a) mean I deserve every breach of my privacy I am on the end of or b) that laws and guidance regarding Terms of service are too lax and need to be changed so that we do bother to read them.

I'm settling for a) because I am an old hand at this and I have watched Terms of Service go from 1 page to too many to count over the span of 10 plus years. I acknowledge every time I click on Agree that I am conceding that yet another faceless corporation is going to be trawling my website browsing history and personal details, movements and shopping habits - and that I am almost forced to agree to this if I want to use the same technology or websites that everyone else is using.

I suspect some of you are not quite so jaded. Go do something about it - I hear Sir Nigel Shadbolt is having a bit of a push on such matters.

In the meantime, call me odd, but I'm only surprised by Apple collecting my location data in as far as I am shocked no one else is doing it.

I deserve everything I get.


  1. I don't know how it works in the UK, but here in Canada it's actually illegal for anyone outside of a govt agency to even ask for our SIN (Social Insurance Number like your NI, the SSN in the US). You're right, that is pretty personal info held there.

  2. What concerns me is not that Apple are being evil - it's that they're being very stupid.

    A lot of personal data is being collected for (as far as we know, and they're not telling) no good reason and placed in an unsecure file in 2 locations.

    Just like Microsoft before them, the gloss is coming off Apple as they shoot themselves in their iFeet.

  3. You suggest that users "deserve" this. What rot. If the Ts and Cs are so long that they require someone to spend a large amount of time reading them, then they are excessive for a consumer product. Is it acceptable to suggest that an intelligent consumer should be required to spend (say an hour) reading and interpreting the Ts&Cs, never mind users who may have reading problems.

    What consumer products other than computer software/hardware come with these ridiculous Ts & Cs?

    Even my mobile phone contract (and I see that as MUCH more important than my iTunes use) is only 4 pages of A5.

    You may choose to believe that you "understood and accepted" them by clicking on a box, however I (and I would guess the majority of users) choose to take the view that it's the only way they can use the hardware that they purchased without any clue about the iTunes Ts&cCs, and only agree under protest because they have to.

  4. Hi there anon,

    Firstly, I'd have more respect for you, if you were going to completely misread what I have written and then accuse me of it being rot, if you put your real name here.

    Secondly, and quoted directly from this post you haven't read:

    If I'm not bothering to read the Terms of Service, does it a) mean I deserve every breach of my privacy I am on the end of or b) that laws and guidance regarding Terms of service are too lax and need to be changed so that we do bother to read them

    I agree with you. T & S's are too long. But I am very sorry, if you give your SSN to someone running a music service you are an idiot. If you allow a company in your jurisdiction to get away with requesting this kind of information legally, you are an idiot.

    As for ME, as I wrote at the bottom, I don't read them, make a conscious decision to acknowledge I may be signing up to god knows what and hit Agree anyway. So I get everything I deserve and this is a wake up call for me.

  5. Not the anonymous you seem so annoyed with. He/she is right and the tone of your piece is that unfair terms are ok. They are not. And I think that's how you feel but it gets lost because of the way you chose to express it.

    You suggest that by agreeing to unfair terms we deserve what we get. So, if we want an Apple iPhone then we must agree to be treated unfairly. The alternative of course is no iPhone. But, most terms are one sided,that's how 'business' works. And this is where I agree with you, if people don't like it then vote with your feet. Unfortunately marketing hype often overwhelms reason.

    P.S. Comments with names are no more or less valid than those without. If you post stuff then live with the feedback that damns and praises.

  6. Apple gather the location data but, according to a lot of reports, they don't transmit it - it looks a bit like a cache of data for working out which wifi networks you're near, and it only makes a note when you go to a new location for the first time.

    A macworld report suggests that if you have GPS on and not 3G it won't record anything.

    Comments with no names are not necessarily less valid but most less valid comments will be anonymous.