What is the Role of the Technocrat?

Here is a link to a disturbing news story about how “smart” phones are capable of embedding latitude and longitude information into the photos people take and forward by e-mail or post online:

Why is it troubling (if you don’t have time to watch the video)? Because evil-minded persons can right-click on someone’s photo to find out this information and stalk the person or locate their kids! I verified the problem with an i-phone and used the data (had to reformat the numbers) to find my sister’s house. With just the lat and long information I was able to have Google Maps place a marker on  the location of the house and provide me with the actual street address (which wasn’t embedded in the photo) where she and her kids live–where the photo was taken inside the living room.

How does it work? Normal cameras don’t have access to GPS services, so they don’t have the problem, but all cell phones do use GPS in order to provide enhanced 911 location services in an emergency. So, naturally, service providers have devised ways (or let others create applications) to provide location-based-services to the phone’s user. Evidently, someone thought it would be a good idea to place lat & long data into every photo.  A GPS needs a view of the sky to see the satellites; normally indoors they cannot get a fix unless one is near a window. But they do remember the last position when they did have a fix on their location. So the location embedded in photos taken outdoors is precise, while the location embedded in pictures taken indoors is obviously close enough to do the job.

So my question is this: If the VAST majority of the American public can only be called technology “users”–even those who ran out to buy these smart phones–and are not themselves capable of joining the technological elite, who know all the ins and outs of these devices, then doesn’t the manufacturer and also the application designer have a responsibility to set up the options for personal safety / security defaults?

The “legal” response is that access to information was provided, a link to a manual, a warning statement inside the box literature, etc. and the unspoken accusation of the user: “Don’t you know how to use your own phone?” Well, I beg to differ with such a typically narrow-minded legal  response to the problem. People do know how to use their phones, in fact they only want to use them, not spend time reading about things they don’t care about. Is fault present for them? Maybe, 99% of the time the consumer’s strategy works. But the problem is that there would be no end of such paper-burden (not paper-work because you aren’t getting paid for it) in order to catch every potential hazard. Practically speaking, the only people who fully read the manuals are the ones who wrote them! And they were PAID to do so, too!

At issue is the informal emergence of a technological aristocracy, “technocrats” if you will,  among device manufacturers and software programmers. This relatively small group–thousands when compared to millions of consumers–is able to exert considerable influence on the  the lives of individuals by the services and products they bring to market. 

It seems that consumer protection was a concept that emerged in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s; identity protection emerged in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s; and now in the 20-teens we need to evolve a consciousness of having a “default setting pro-active awareness” (DSPA to coin a term).  Consumer electronics now is so complex it takes forever to learn about all the options. People don’t have the time to fully read a 100 page instruction manual, which seldom is provided in paper copy anymore and itself has to be hunted down online.

I think there is a moral burden on the technological elite to properly set defaults to protect the consumer public from itself.  Our rallying cry (tongue in cheek) should be: “Disclosure is not enough–there’s TOO MUCH stuff (to read)!”

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