Friday, 23 August 2013

Scary Discovery

The other day I finally succumbed and registered to Apple's Play Center on my iPad, in order to be able to play a multilayer game of Magic 2014 (the current version of Magic: The Gathering). Immediately upon registering I noted Apple provided me with a list of seventy or so potential candidates for "friends" I might add to the service. And it was scary!
The names on the list were almost all familiar names. They were people that I actually know, but with a twist: they were friends of friends more than people I would actually call friends. The question is, how does Apple know of me knowing them? That's a tough one, because:
1. I never uploaded my iPhone's contacts to Apple.
2. None of them were in my iPhone's contacts.
3. I do not have a Facebook account.
4. None of them are Twitter contacts.
So, how does Apple know that these are people I am familiar with? I tried searching for answers on Apple's algorithm there but could only find others asking the same questions I did; no answers were provided by anyone.
Clearly, Apple has a way of data mining. It probably cross references the contact lists of people who do upload their data to its servers; it probably digs up other lists, too. Somewhere, someone in these lists had me as a contact. From then on, the path was paved.
The lesson is clear: be careful what you put online, because someone out there will add one to one and come up with wonderful revelations concerning you. But more importantly, this is a warning shot: if Apple knows so much about me, then what does Google know? After all, I and most other people volunteer tons of information to Google. Oh, and what can we do about friends who volunteer much more information about us to these services than we would like?
Clearly, there is a need to strenghten privacy regulations and enforcement around online services. Not that this will happen in our lifetime, given that lobbying power of Facebook, Google & Co.


Image by Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta, Creative Commons license

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