I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’ve got to tell you, the recent news reports that Apple’s iPhone and iPad can track your location moment by moment reminded me of George Orwell’s 1984. Media outlets were all -- excuse the pun -- a’twitter about how iPhones store users’ unencrypted information for a year.
Fortunately for Apple, it was able to credibly deny the reports. A data file publicized by security researchers, it turns out, doesn't store actual locations. But what it does is keep a list of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers, which means, potentially, Apple can track the location of the iPhone I’m carrying in my pocket. For me, that’s too close for comfort. Apple promises it will fix the problem to ensure our privacy is protected.
Well, do you trust Apple to act in an unbiased way in the public interest? Remember, Apple banned the Manhattan Declaration app from its app store because gay-rights groups were angry about the Declaration’s support of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Apple squelched one side of a raging public debate. But Apple, as a public corporation and major carrier of information has a responsibility to encourage open debate. That’s vital to democracy.
But even if Apple hadn’t dropped our app, I’d still find this brouhaha about the iPhone troubling. Apple says nothing untoward is happening, and perhaps this time it isn’t, but how can we be sure that they won’t change their mind? Remember in 1984 where those reverse televisions kept a merciless eye on the people?
Today’s technology goes far beyond that. Facebook, for example, will reportedly be using facial recognition to suggest the names of friends who appear in newly uploaded photos. One commenter responded to this news by saying, “Awesome! Now I can take pictures of cute girls at the grocery store or at the park, upload them and Facebook will tell me who they are!”
From all that we’ve seen with computers, cell phones, and the Web, I think it’s safe to assume our private information won’t remain private. And do we really want to entrust our personal security to a faceless corporate or government bureaucracy? And gamble that Big Brother won’t get his unsavory paws on our private data?
To paraphrase President Ford, a company or government big enough to give you everything you want is a company or government big enough to take from you everything you have. Through the technological advances of Apple, Facebook, and other corporations, we now have the technology we want. But they have enormous access into our lives, and they must be held accountable.
Beyond the obvious concerns about maintaining our privacy, we need to ask some deeper questions: What do all these digital intrusions tell us about human beings? We’re not here to simply serve the marketing or financial needs of Big Brother. We’re made in the image of God. We have intrinsic dignity. I’m not the first to worry about the dehumanizing tendencies of technology.
We Christians, along with everyone else in our complex technological society, face difficult choices when it comes to using, benefiting from, and sometimes protecting ourselves from our electronic creations. The digital age has much that is praiseworthy -- and much that is perilous. A crucial part of Christian discipleship in the 21st century is learning to tell the difference.