By Sarah Eagan
Between Shane Dawson’s sensationalist conspiracy theory Youtube series and major media outlets publishing articles on a privacy glitch that allows people to eavesdrop on Facetime this week, the conspiracy that our iPhones are always recording us is fairly mainstream.
Despite Apple’s continuous denial of any such surveillance, it’s arguably well-understood that within the depths of the “Terms of Agreement” — which no one ever reads — there is probably some stipulation that we are, in fact, being watched.
This sort of thing never used to bother me. I’m not one to cover my laptop webcam for fear of potential FBI wiretapping or some MIT comp-sci kid prowling the communication channels. Hell, if they find something interesting in my intent essay-writing and Wikipedia deep dives, I’m more than happy to provide FBI Agent 2604 with some quality entertainment from time to time.
While I may take my personal cybersecurity for granted, for this week’s FreeP Files, I wanted to consider the ways that allegedly stockpiled information could potentially be used as we traverse the moral ambiguity of the technological age.
Phone call conspiracies
Picked up by CNN, The Guardian and news media outlets across the world this week, Apple faces a lawsuit surrounding an “eavesdropping” bug that allows iPhone users to listen in to the conversations of the person they’re calling far before the recipient of the call answers.
Though this one is pretty much proven, as Apple admitted to their knowledge of the bug following the suit, what’s more interesting is the void where I imagine the recordings of missed calls lie to rest.
Some might call this a voicemail box, but I like to believe on the other side exists a graveyard of audio recordings of people scrambling to come up with an excuse for not answering their boss’s calls or their grandmother’s 10th buzz this week.
This could be conjured at any moment to haunt us with our own purposefully-missed-call guilt. If we’re considering the contents of the privacy-breaching individualized folders Apple and the government likely have on tap, those missed call moments definitely make the cut.
Facial recognition reckoning
The iPhone X user knows all too well the perils of facial recognition software. Slightly unkempt that day or hair disheveled from braving the Boston wind? You already know that your phone will insultingly not recognize your face and instead force a passcode unlock.
In terms of where these glaring images go when they’re done unlocking your phone, I tend to think that alongside the audio recordings of my clamberings for an excuse, there must be another sub-folder filled with all of the images of myself at my worst.
The miscellaneous unsightliness aside, these blank stare moments could of course be stored for use in more nefarious plots. For now, I mostly think they remain in the cloud somewhere to keep us humble.
Search result scaries
We’ve all googled things we’re not proud of. While I could spend years contemplating — with certain dread — the content of my FBI file’s “search history” section, I do wonder whether this is the most useful form of spying Apple (allegedly!) engages in.
From sponsored posts tailored to that search for an embarrassing novelty item you wanted last week to downright spooky ads specific to the conversation you had with your friends yesterday, the usage of our search results coupled with recordings of our conversations is perhaps the most economically and socially valuable tool Apple possesses.
Other forms of my technological footprint might be merely embarrassing, but I can easily imagine search result storage as a contender for the most incriminating form of unsolicited privacy breaching.
While many of these conspiracies remain speculative, they only scratch the surface of all of the media and information that our phones likely gather about us. I don’t like to think about all of the places, things and people my phone has seen alongside me, but I can only hope that it would be hilarious to one day get a glimpse into the warehouse of data I never knew was saved.
Stay safe, Terriers!