Nick's Notes

An unnecessary Evil?

I wrote in an earlier blog that I felt I could justify my bias towards Apple, at least to myself. This week I intend to try to partly justify that bias to you as well. It’s got nothing to do with their beautifully designed product either.

Last week Google hit the news with a story of a woman who tried to keep news of her engagement private but was horrified to discover that adverts fed by Google appeared for engagement rings, dresses and all the other paraphernalia of weddings. Friends looking over her shoulder at her screen guessed. She discovered, and this is no surprise to the technically aware, that Google “read” her Gmail account, interpreted her searches, incorporated her use of Google maps and aggregated everything they “know” about her – and millions like her – to make serious money from that knowledge. Google’s 2013 revenues were approximately $60 billion – 85% of which came directly from advertising.

I put the words in quotation marks because no individual is involved, this is all electronic intelligence. However, as a consequence, she decided to live “Google free”, which she found difficult, simply because Google is all pervasive but it was not impossible. The Times even ran a leader column on this, explaining that people do have a choice.

I ceased using Google sometime ago for similar reasons although I am more concerned with privacy than secrecy. I have used the TOR browser. It is easy to set up and – although it is slower because of the packet disaggregation, hops, and eventual re-assemblage – it is a perfectly viable browser based on Firefox. I normally use Safari though. I use DuckDuckGo as my search engine – the company states they don’t track searches. Have I got something to hide? No – but I don’t want to be any other company’s product, which is why I’m not on Facebook either.

Tim Cook, Chief Executive of Apple recently made a clear, unambiguous statement. He said that Apple provides software and services simply and only to improve the experience of their customers. This is backed up in the EULA, and he committed that the company would never use their customer data as a product, even going so far as to say that if the FBI or CIA came knocking at their door they couldn’t actually un-encrypt the customer data on their servers. I choose to believe him, and that is a major reason I am a committed Apple fan.

Millennials are reputed to not care about their privacy in this way. Perhaps I’m getting old. But if anyone is to monetise me, I’d rather like it to be me that benefits.

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