Posted April 22, 2011 8:49 am by with 3 comments

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Marketers love data. You hear it all the time. The more data the better. The more you know the more you sell. The less the consumer knows the better (seems to be a theme unfortunately). If we could just get this one piece of information we could make gazillions.

You know the drill. It’s played over time and time again. What is happening more and more, however, is the slow process of learning just how much information is gathered by some pretty powerful folks (in this case Apple and Google) that may or may not be given voluntarily by users. In fact, it looks more and more like the data gathering and storing methods of these two behemoths have little to do with opt-in or an end user’s permission or even awareness in collection of data. Instead it’s more like “Thanks for the data but don’t expect a phone call!”

If you would like the details about the latest kerfuffle around just how much information about iPhone, iPad and Android users is being harvested there are plenty of places like the Wall Street Journal and here.

The bottom line is that this is getting some attention from places that Apple would probably rather keep a low profile (read: Washington, DC). The letter below comes from Massachusetts Democrat from the House of Representatives Edward J. Markey to none other than Steve Jobs. Markey has knocked on Steve Jobs’ door about privacy in the past but now he’s interested anew.

While I find this whole espionage play of the Internet space interesting it gets pretty tiresome. Why? Because it’s all posturing. No one is going to really do anything to anyone except make threats. It’s painfully obvious that politicians like to grandstand and use this kind of attention to boost careers. Do I really think that one day the government is going to intervene and make these companies do something different? It rarely happens in other industries and when it does it amounts to a slap on the wrist. So the answer is no.

As for including Steve Jobs directly in this, it’s another interesting element considering all the rumors swirling about his health etc. If things were really bad (which I hope they aren’t but let’s face it, he doesn’t appear to be well) would Jobs actually have a different attitude about everything and just “go for broke”? Would he just say to his company “Screw it. Collect it all and see if they (the government) can do anything to us”. I don’t know but you have to consider the possibilities.

And let’s not forget Google in all this. Android devices are collecting the same information (which will reveal to them the incredibly predictable life of work and kids’ sporting events I am involved in!). Google is ‘no commenting’ its way through this and hoping that Larry Page doesn’t make Rep. Markey’s mailing list.

So in the end, how does this impact marketers? It’s the same story that has been talked about for years now. How much information is too much information to be gathering about a person without their permission? When permission is granted do end users even know what they are saying yes to? Is it the intent of data gatherers to confuse people just so they can have more data to sell them stuff?

And finally, are there bigger things afoot (conspiracy theory alert) where this information being gathered is part of something bigger than just commerce? Honestly, I don’t have a clue. I just ask the questions. Maybe Eric Schmidt was right when he said that if you are doing something you just shouldn’t be doing it since everyone knows everything about everyone these days to some degree or another.

What’s your take? Do you care?

UPDATE: Sorry for not realizing that other politicians in need of publicity wrote to Steve Jobs as well. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota is a Steve Jobs pen pal too! Isn’t that cute?

  • There is a widget on my Android device that I can put right on the front screen. This widget allows you to turn your GPS on and off with the push of a single icon.

    Besides, there is a reason FourSquare does NOT solely trust the GPS. I’ll try to check in from my favorite Thai restaurant and the Android GPS places me in a chiropractic supply store two kilometers away.

    I’m kind of okay with this. As far as Google can guess: I have an extreme interest in purchasing lingerie, get my car’s oil changed twice a week and sleep in the stock room of a nearby gas station. The false alibis are much scarier than any truth the phone might accidentally pick up.

    • @SE Troll – Good point (and pretty funny too!)

  • I think it’s funny that the very people who can’t wait to share every waking (and sometimes non-waking) thought and location and meal and opinion to the world publicly will be surprised or offended that this information will be noticed and used. It’s not a topic that will be resolved anytime soon, and if anything, will push the bounds of public v. private information to a swell before the majority of smart phone users even realize what they’ve been so ready to offer up.