The Wall Street Journal has a follow-up today that talks about how police track our locations with our cell phones. Now, answering one of my own questions, thanks to some discussion with my wife, what is the difference between using a GPS tracker and a cell phone?
First, of course you can always turn off your cell phone. Because you know you are being tracked, you have a means to defend your privacy. Is it a reasonable means? I would argue “no”. In addition, the feds do not own the data. Instead they have to go to the phone companies to get it. And they do that quite a bit more than using GPS trackers, according to the article. And why not? You pay for the cell phone and your carrier retains the data. It’s darn cheap for the police to make use of all of that rather than have to pay for the tracker and manage it.
There’s another big difference that I alluded to. Police in America do get a court order for cell phone location information. This is why I believe the Obama administration should fail. It is not an onerous task, judging by numbers, to get such an order, and since it isn’t, the onus falls on the administration to show why they shouldn’t make use of the exact same mechanism when the technology changes.
Back in the early 1990s, when Apple saw the threat coming, but didn’t have a decent response, the only resort they had was to sue Microsoft in what became known as a “look and feel” lawsuit. They lost, and their fall from grace continued like a lead balloon. It was only when they came to terms with the fact that they really had no decent products that Steve Jobs was able to rescue the company.
Today, the shoe is on the other foot. Once again, there has been a fall from grace, but this time the one doing the falling is Apple’s disrupted competitor, Nokia. Apple has taken huge swathes of market share away from Nokia because, quite frankly, Nokia phones aren’t what they used to be. They suck in comparison to Apple, and the reason they suck is that they attempted to cater strictly to service providers and not to the people who use the phones. Nokia’s Symbian O/S is slow and uninteresting in comparison to Apple’s OS/X. Their integration with existing products such as the iPod is so limited compared to Apple’s ecosystem as to be entirely insignificant. Nokia’s network functionality was so poor as to be unusable, except for specific applications like Good. Their IMAP functionality was just broken for mailboxes of any size.
And so Nokia has announced that they are suing Apple for infringement of ten patents, since it seems that it is the only way they will make money. I don’t know whether there is any merit to their suit, but I can say two things:
- A lawsuit will not help consumers one bit; and
- There is a special place in Hell for those who bring lawsuits involving technology that is standardized.
If Apple’s earlier experience is any indicator, Nokia has further to fall. They must stop suing and start innovating and catering to consumers, who Apple rightly recognized were the real customers. Apple has given Nokia a good kick in the pants, but Nokia has a long history of success. They are down but not out. To be out, they need to be thinking about new approaches to the consumer, new ways to attract developers, and it actually all has to work.
Nokia image courtesy of Yerson O