Διαβάζω στο podilates.gr σχετικά με την συνάντηση που έκαναν μέλη του site με τον δήμαρχο Αθηναίων, Γιώργο Καμίνη σε συνέχεια επιστολής που του είχαν αποστείλει πριν από μερικούς μήνες. Στο σχετικό post αναγράφονται λεπτομερώς τα θέματα που συζητήθηκαν κατά την συνάντηση αυτή. Είμαι φίλος του ποδηλάτου και αναγνωρίζω πως η Αθήνα είναι μια ιδιαίτερα εχθρική πόλη προς αυτό, όμως αφ’ενός η κρίση, αφ’ετέρου οι ολοένα μεγαλύτερες οργανωμένες προσπάθειες προώθησής του έχει, τα τελευταία χρόνια, αυξήσει το ενδιαφέρον και την χρήση του όχι μόνον ως μέσο αναψυχής αλλά και μεταφοράς.
Με ιδιαίτερη θλίψη μου, διαβάζω όμως πως κάποια από τα πιο κραυγαλέα προβλήματα που επηρεάζουν τόσο τους ποδηλάτες όσο και τους πεζούς αλλά και οδηγούς αντιμετωπίζονται με φθηνές δικαιολογίες αντί προγράμματος και λύσεων. Γίνεται, για παράδειγμα, λόγος για τα έργα που πραγματοποιούνται σε πολλούς δήμους, κυρίως για την τοποθέτηση οπτικών ινών. Γράφεται στο άρθρο, ως δήλωση της αντιδημάρχου τεχνικών υπηρεσιών κ. Νανάς Σπυροπούλου: “Μετά από μήνες τα μπαλώματα χαλάνε και οι δρόμοι γίνονται επικίνδυνοι. Θα έπρεπε να είχαν βάλει έναν σωλήνα απ’ τον οποίο να περνάνε όλες οι οπτικές ίνες. Αλλά δεν έγινε έτσι και κάθε εταιρία κάνει καινούργια σκαψίματα. Ο δήμος έχει προσθέσει εγγυητικές επιστολές στη διαδικασία, αλλά τα προβλήματα παρουσιάζονται αργότερα.”
Αργότερα; Για πόσο καιρό ‘εγγυάται’ ο εκάστοτε εργολάβος το έργο του; Στην δική μου εμπειρία τα προβλήματα εμφανίζονται ελάχιστους μήνες μετά την ολοκλήρωση του έργου, επηρεάζουν δε τους οδηγούς εξίσου με τους ποδηλάτες καθώς το ανώμαλο οδόστρωμα προκαλεί ζημιές στους τροχούς, τα αμορτισέρ αλλά και άλλα μέρη των αυτοκινήτων. Γιατί δεν μεριμνά ο δήμος έτσι ώστε οι συμβάσεις του εκάστοτε εργολάβου να είναι τόσο αυστηρές ώστε να εγγυώνται μια σχετικά υψηλή ποιότητα κατασκευής; Γιατί δεν μπήκε αυτός ο περιβόητος σωλήνας και πόσο έχει κοστίσει το επαναλαμβανόμενο σκάψιμο του κάθε δρόμου; Αποζημιώνεται ο δήμος για την ταλαιπωρία; Αν όχι, κάνει κάτι γι’αυτό;
Επιπλέον, αναγράφεται κάπου, δημόσια και ευκόλως προσβάσιμα η ταυτότητα του κάθε εργολάβου που έχει αναλάβει έργο σε κάποιον δρόμο, έτσι ώστε να μπορεί ο καθένας να ενημερωθεί (και να κυνηγήσει νομικά εφ’όσον προκύψουν ζημιές ή τραυματισμοί από την κακοτεχνία του) ποιός είναι υπεύθυνος για τα έργα σε κάθε δρόμο; Ακόμη καλύτερα, πως επιλέγει ο κάθε δήμος τον πλέον κατάλληλο εργολάβο για κάθε έργο; Απλά βάσει τιμής; Υπάρχει, για παράδειγμα, δημόσιος κατάλογος με εργολάβους που δικαιούνται να μειοδοτήσουν για έργα; Εάν ένας εργολάβος κάνει κακή δουλειά, υπάρχει κάποια κεντρική βάση δεδομένων που θα επιτρέψει στον δήμο, αλλά και άλλους δήμους και φορείς του δημοσίου να τον αποκλείσουν για κάποιο χρονικό διάστημα ή και οριστικά από διαγωνισμούς αν έχει επανελλημένως αποδεδειγμένα κάνει κακή δουλειά; Δεν θέλει ιδιαίτερη προσπάθεια, ούτε πόρους κάτι τέτοιο και είμαι βέβαιος πως, “ως δια μαγείας”, οι δρόμοι, τα κτήρια και οι υποδομές που σήμερα είναι έρμαια κακοτεχνιών, απάτης και κατασπατάλησης του δημόσιου χρήματος θα ήταν πολύ καλύτερα. Φυσικά αυτό θα σήμαινε πως η ίδια η τοπική αυτοδιοίκηση δεν θα έπαιρνε συχνά μέρος αυτής της κατασπατάλησης, κάτι που κατά τα φαινόμενα συμβαίνει.
I don’t often write about Greek bands and for good reason. If there is one thing one can write about the rock underground in Greece is that it is unpredictable. Its rare highs exceptional, its frequent lows painful and the uncertainty surrounding the future of a band, person or even a release a dire constant, in this country devoid of the necessary cultural and economic foundations to support musicians (and, arguably, artists in general), unless they fall in that sonically and æsthetically narrow slice that spans everything between contemporary greek-kitsch and the multitude of offsprings of the archetypal oriental-meets-byzantine ‘folk’.
In the past decade I’ve followed, albeit from a certain safe distance, this hellenic rock underground; defiant, full of energy and with the appearance of Spinalonga Records in 2005 and several other projects like it in the years that followed — some not-for-profit, others commercial — organised, promoted, somewhat more efficient that what you’d expect from any ‘underground’ music scene.
Even in the rose-tinted 2000s, few bands ever managed to survive the Greek cultural decay (one that preceded the economic and political decay we live in), few artists went on to bigger and greater things and the good (and few amazing!) releases that came out were often followed by the harrowing silence of a breakup, leaving the audience stymied and disappointed. Cube, while never in the spotlight, at times verging on the border of dissolution, have maintained a constant understated presence that transcended the changing landscapes of its members and tastes.
Yet despite their perseverance, there was little on the record about their contribution to rock. Apart from a few bootlegs and ‘fan’ videos of live performances online, the last thing reminding the world of Cube was their 2002 EP, a release not representative of their evolving æsthetic, skill, maturity or, for that matter, lineup and a few tracks in diy, limited release, such as Spinalonga’s own ‘In the Junkyard’ among others.
So Android announced Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean), the next version of the operating system with much awaited performance improvements and some new (marginal) features, available to Galaxy Nexus users in mid-July and the remaining 99% of the Android ecosystem sometime between a year and never. Along with the new version of Android, Google announced several other products and services, including their Nexus 7″ tablet, which I won’t cover in this post. What I am going to focus on is Nexus Q, the first product designed exclusively by Google, a ‘social’ media player that is, intriguingly, manufactured in the U.S and costs almost $300. This is not representative of a new class of devices, it’s not even functionally all that impressive either: it’s a device that connects to speakers and TVs, like countless before it. The difference in the case of the Nexus Q lies in its impressive industrial design and the fact that 1. it can stream data from Google Play and 2) it can allow local Android devices to ‘share’ the content they hold in their local memory. Google, borrowing from the Apple cue-card of shoving features into products without really caring about what people really want or need, created a product aimed solely at increasing the impact and the revenue of their online media store (Google Play) and added a small cherry on top that makes use of the networked nature, ubiquity and storage capacity of modern smartphones. Of course, even the ‘social’ aspect of the device is not exactly groundbreaking either. The functionality has been available, one way or another, albeit in more ‘technically challenging’ forms for years. But what’s important to note about the Q is that it doesn’t really cover what is probably the number one request (or, if your prefer, the number one pet peeve) people have about for other locked down devices of this kind (yes, Apple TV is a prime example): the ability to stream content stored in existing home networked devices, such as another computers or NAS devices on the local network, using standard or widely-used protocols such as DLNA/uPNP, DAAP/Airplay or even SMB/NFS. With the Nexus Q, Google demonstrates the same denial it’s got with that of the success, or rather lack thereof, of Google+. And in their attempt to convince people that the botched Nexus Q is worth paying the huge premium they’re asking (other devices of the same kind cost 2-3 times less), their enthusiasm for silly features like overlay mustaches in Hangouts, their desire to marry profits with openness and openness, they lose the mark. They fail to deliver the extremely seductive walled-garden, locked-down experience that allows Apple to thrive at the cost of openness and empowering products and services and, at the same time, they lose the geekcred that made Google so affable in the first place. Google largely knows this and they have been performing a balancing act for years: the ‘openness’ of Android, that of ‘the social graph’, their contribution to the public via open source software. The company is cognizant of its differences to other players of the market; yet, there with today’s announcement of the Nexus Q there is a paradox: today we have so much technology available to us, often of high quality and free, in the form of open source software, powerful and affordable hardware. Google, like Apple and everyone else in between, realise this and have been struggling to trap the cat inside their new shiny new boxes. The Nexus Q could have been a great little device, and maybe it will be one as soon as people start ‘tinkering with its internals’. Yet it would have been much better if Google had shipped it like that instead of ‘tolerating’ hackability by the community. By blatantly promoting its own cloud based offerings instead of trying to marry them with locally stored content, Google is crippling its product.
In the end, like Microsoft a few days ago, Google is copying Steve Jobs’s style and strategy; provide a platform and tools, but focus on content and lock-down as a monetisation technique to counter technology commoditisation. Gundotra’s presentation of Google+ Events reeks of vintage early 2000s Jobsian technique, with the preset graphics and the sildeshow features. With everyone and their dog showcasing complete lack of tech culture in the face of a dominant resurgent Apple, the world treads in dangerous territory: a technology monoculture in the corporate space that bases its profitability on polished jailhouses instead of innovation and increased freedoms. In this context, the cloud remains a key technology that can help liberate us from the burdens of backups and local storage, but also imprison us in a world where a few corporations control all of our information.
Which brings us to Glass. The Sergey Brin, Project Glass segment was super fun and very impressive. If anything, it shows that Google is well-humoured and daring and works on interesting technology. Of course the demo and the features they showed are not exactly representative of the product, its potential or its usefulness. The segment which followed the breathtaking landing on Moscone and Brin’s introduction was stale and unconvincing: I doubt a mom would want to ‘make contact’ with her baby looking like the Borg, or that everyone would think twice before relegating their ‘Glass’ to a drawer and never using it, its novelty quickly overshadowed by its unnatural and intruding appearance. It’d be a shame if Google really thought that people want to look like futuristic soldiers from a second tier sci-fi movie. Sure, the concept is nice and perhaps as technology progresses it will be easier to integrate such functionality in more human-friendly prodcuts, like contact lenses or integrated with optical glasses. As it stands, Project Glass is only an unappealing curiosity that serves better as a tech demo than a product right now.
Seeing the Microsoft Surface [really Microsoft? You guys couldn't find a new, unique name?] Keynote reinforces my belief that the company has long lost the capacity of creating and projecting a genuine, unique and interesting image, products and services.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, it quickly did away with most of the product lines the company was making that weren’t very successful. It ended printers, clones, the Newton and many other products and services and focused on creating a few, exceptional products. In the early 2000s Apple had started gaining mindshare, both in the computing world with OS X and generally with the wildly successful iPod. At the time, given Microsoft’s tendency to copy features, ideas and æsthetics from Apple, I thought that Apple, being a much smaller company, was serving as some sort of research facility for Microsoft, which then took the successful ideas and commoditised them. Even though Apple is now much larger than Microsoft, the trend continues; the Surface Keynote event was a cheap copy of Apple’s events, down to the ‘How we made it’ interlude videos, the speaker rotation and style, while the products — still — better designed and refined, oozing with much needed quality in a ever-cheaper industry, sadly fail to go beyond marginal improvements to existing, commonplace technology, a few technical features most people don’t know or care about (MIMO antennæ, optical bonded display, etc) and lacklustre features and presentation. Sure, Surface is new, it introduces what Windows 8 is all about: a tablet form-factor with a full-featured OS. But Surface didn’t really create excitement in the audience, people didn’t seem enthused, the presenters tried too hard to convince everyone of “how you’ll fall in love with it” etc, when the device didn’t seem all that great. No matter how much this company tries, it tries too hard to ‘copy’, instead of ‘creating’. To ‘replicate’ concepts, features and products, instead of cultivating their own culture, their own vision. The result shows that; by trying so hard to adopt the Apple mantra of style, quality and innovation, when they don’t really believe it, they come out with mediocre products, like the Zune player and, now, seemingly, the Surface tablet. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Microsoft doesn’t ever innovate or that it inherently could not. It is a company that has both resources and technology to revolutionise computing, a company that has introduced countless innovations over the years, but on average it suffices to releasing second-rate products, it cares more about the economics of doing business than the passion, quality and enjoyment of creating technology and products.
Surface, a tablet that wants to replace not only devices primarily aimed for consuming content, like the iPad, but, eventually, your laptop probably tries to do too much at once, while being mediocre at both. With a schizophrenic cover/keyboard device, it’s presented as a notebook replacement; with Metro, it competes with the iPad. But Surface Pro will also be able to run classic Windows programs, where the plain model won’t (it’s ARM-based). How about battery life? I think that Google/Apple got it right when they separated PC and post-PC devices. In terms of productivity nothing, let alone a tablet, beats a workstation, with its massive real-estate, ergonomic size and positioning and greater power, but Microsoft desperate attempt to differentiate the Surface from the iPad and Android tablets by invoking ‘creation’ rather than ‘consumption’ and pointing to the keyboard and higher performance is ludicrous. I’d take a brand new MacBook Air anytime, even running Windows 8, instead of the just-released Surface. Sure there’ll be cases when the full power of a notebook might be useful in a tablet form-factor, and there’ll be cases where the presence of a touch-based keyboard will be better than its absence, but in general this is not anyone’s vision for a productive portable consuming experience.
Από την αρχή της ‘κρίσης’ μέχρι σήμερα, η υπεραπλούστευση των προβλημάτων που μαστίζουν την οικονομία, την Ελλάδα, την Ευρώπη, την Δύση αλλά και τον κόσμο γενικότερα είναι, θαρρώ, θλιβερό χαρακτηριστικό της προσπάθειας αντιμετώπισης της. Η υπεραπλούστευση αυτή τελείται σε πολλαπλά επίπεδα, και καταλήγει, εν διαμέσω λαϊκισμού και μονολιθικών πολωτικών και συχνά αφοριστικών θέσεων στο ευρύ κοινό, συχνά επικαλούμενη τα συναισθήματα και ένστικτα της δικαιοσύνης, πατριωτισμου ή/και εθνικισμού, ανθρωπισμού, ελευθερίας, δημοκρατίας κλπ.
Στο ανώτατο εκτελεστικό επίπεδο, αυτό της ΕΕ και των Ευρωπαϊκών κυβερνήσεων που την απαρτίζουν, παρατηρείται μια αμφίσημη θέση που συχνά ταυτίζει (εάν όχι μπερδεύει) το — σαφέστατα υπαρκτό και μείζον — πρόβλημα χρέους της δυτικής οικονομίας (ένα πρόβλημα, το ίδιο πολύ βαθύτερο από αυτό που αντιλαμβάνεται ή έστω παραδέχεται η Δύση μέχρι σήμερα) με τη πληθώρα δομικών και βαθύτατων προβλημάτων των ελληνικών θεσμών, πολιτείας και κοινωνίας. Η ταύτιση αυτή είναι βολική για τους πολιτικούς γιατί αφαιρεί από τους ώμους τους την ανάγκη να αντιμετωπίσουν τα σαφώς δυσκολότερα αλλά και πολιτικώς κοστοβόρα ζητήματα που βαραίνουν τις χώρες τους· όσο η Ελλάδα μπορεί να αποτελέσει έναν ικανοποιητικά πειστικό αποδιοπομπαίο τράγο τα ‘πυρά’ μπορούν να αποστρακιστούν σε αυτή. Η εξήγηση είναι βολική και για οικονομολόγους, τραπεζίτες και λοιπούς θεασωτές της ‘ελεύθερης αγοράς’, που συχνά επιλέγουν να εθελοτυφλήσουν απέναντι στο ναυάγιο της θεωρίας που υποστηρίζουν, ενδεχομένως ανέπτυξαν, μιας θεωρίας που θέλει την ‘αγορά’ να επιτυγχάνει την αυτορύθμιση σε κάθε περίπτωση, ένα μοντέλο που τοποθετεί τις τραπεζικές επενδύσεις πάνω από την πραγματική, δημιουργική οικονομία. Στα πλαίσια αυτής της εθελοτυφλίας μπορεί κανέις να αποδώσει την εμμονή πολλών με την Έλλάδα, εμμονή που επιλεκτικά πιστεύω αγνοεί την τραγική κατάσταση της δυτικής οικονομίας γενικότερα. Η άρνηση της Ευρώπης αλλά και των ΗΠΑ αποτυπώνεται στην ευρύτερη πολιτική ρυθμίσεων στις εθνικές αλλά και υπερεθνικές οικονομίες τα τελευταία πέντε χρόνια.
Θα περίμενε κανείς πως μια τόσο κακή πολιτική θα είχε αποτύχει πλήρως. Κι’όμως, μέχρι στιγμής έχει πετύχει σε ανεξήγητα μεγαλύτερο βαθμό απ’ότι θα περίμενε κανείς λαμβάνοντας υπόψη όλα τα δεδομένα: παρά την προσχώρηση τριών χωρών στο πλαίσιο ‘υποστήριξης’ των ΔΝΤ/ΕΚΤ/ΕΕ, την κάκιστη κατάσταση της βρετανικής οικονομίας (η οποία δεν φαίνεται να βελτιώνεται σύντομα), την τραγική πορεία της οικονομίας της ευρωζώνης αλλά και την ανησυχία για την οικονομία των ΗΠΑ, που παρά τα $1.2+ τρισεκατομμύρια που δόθηκαν στις μεγαλύτερες τράπεζες της χώρας από τον Σεπτέμβριο 2008, ως συνδυασμός παροχών εγγυήσεων αλλά και στα πλαίσια της μερικής ‘συμμετοχής’ της κυβέρνησης ως μηχανισμός κεφαλαιοποίησής τους για αντιμετώπιση της κρίσης του 2008, ελάχιστα ευνοήθηκε η πραγματική οικονομία. Φυσικά, παρά το γεγονός πως ο Henry Paulson, πρώην CEO της Goldman Sachs και υπουργός οικονομικών των ΗΠΑ κατά την διάρκεια της τραπεζικής κρίσης των subprime mortgages το 2008, έγραψε στο βιβλίο του On the brink για την δραματική έλλειψη κεφαλαιοποίησης του τραπεζικού συστήματος, ο μηχανισμός που χρησιμοποιήθηκε για να τις ‘σώσει’ κινήθηκε χρησιμοποιώντας ακριβώς στην ίδια εργαλεία και αποτυγχάνοντας να σπρώξει την αμερικάνικη οικονομία προς μια κατεύθυνση που θα της επέτρεπε, σε κάποιο βάθος χρόνου, να επανακάμψει υγειώς. Μόνον οι ‘απεχθείς’ για τους μεγάλους φίλους των ‘αγορών’ (αλλά παρά ταύτα και σαφώς ανεπαρκείς) ‘σοσιαλιστικές’ ή ‘κρατικιστικές’ παρεμβάσεις του προέδρου Obama φαίνονται να είχαν κάποια μικρά θετικά αποτελέσματα για την αμερικάνικη οικονομία (ένα καλό παράδειγμα είναι η General Motors). Υπάρχει μια μη-γραμμικότητα, τόσο στην πορεία της δυτικής οικονομίας, όσο και στην αντιλαμβανόμενη πτώση του επιπέδου ζωής για εκατοντάδες εκατομμύρια ανθρώπους στην Ευρώπη και τις ΗΠΑ, απόρεια αυτής.
I’ve written about SimCity in the past, in my opinion one of the most intriguing games ever to grace a personal computer. The following videos showcase some of the fundamental changes that have taken place for the upcoming game, SimCity, a reboot of the franchise that features a brand new engine called GlassBox. The engine introduces agent-like behaviour in the objects that inhabit the SimCity universe, thus creating an extremely consistent visual representation of the internal state of the game (something that, in turn, maximises realism). One of the previous concerns of Will Wright (and perhaps the rest of the team at Maxis), especially for SimCity 4, was that it was becoming too complex to be commercially successful. In my opinion, this is completely wrong. SimCity draws its appeal from the fact that it endeavours to be a realistic yet fun city-building simulator. Complexity is not the problem, it’s a benefit and I’m sure that the new agent-based engine will allow for much more complex, yet easily-graspable and consistent game concepts with higher complexity to be playable and fun. To my mind this has always been more than just a game and the concepts behind SimCity (as well as, to my knowledge, the engine) have been used for real city management needs.
I found this article on EFF to be a very concise summary of many of the issues I’ve written (and often talked about) in the past, pertaining to the freedom to use the devices you have paid for and own as you see fit, and the increasingly worrying trend of manufacturer lockdowns that largely define what you can and cannot do with them. While Apple with its popular iOS may be the most well-known (and most successful) ambassador of the lock-down platform, the trend has been on the radar well before Apple managed to escape the threat of extinction in the late 1990s; Microsoft, with Windows RT and the Secure Boot flag in UEFI only manages to actually implement all those technologies they initially developed, studied and proposed more than ten years ago with Palladium/TCPA.
The cat is still out of the box, but technology ages quickly and the threat is quite real: a combination of a cloud abused by the Valley oligopoly, lack of the computing storage ubiquity and locked down devices would be a nightmare scenario that would strip the computer of its fundamental differentiating quality from appliances of yore: its malleability, the power derived from its programmability and its ability to solve countless problems, to achieve infinite different tasks and not perform a single function, as manufacturers would most likely want.
Mere hours after pressing ‘Publish’ on the previous mini-article concerning walled gardens, an article on TechCrunch, this morning, clarified the situation we have more or less been suspecting for a while now: that Apple, after deprecating UDIDs (one of the things they truly did well in iOS from the beginning), they will start rejecting apps after the backlash caused by lawsuits, noise and a few rogue developers that seemed keen to take advantage of their users and use their private information in ways they didn’t agree (and which are illegal in more ways than one).
The situation with unique device identifiers is an important one. On one hand, user privacy should be the number one concern of platform owners/builders like Apple, Google and Microsoft. It isn’t, for their software can do pretty much whatever it wants with the users’ private information, as we have seen several times these past few years. On the other, developers have many uses for an immutable, unique identifier for devices; from providing metrics for their own use, understanding the patterns of use of their applications, improving ad targeting, enforcing proper use of their applications and communities among others. Of course, it can also be a tool aiding in unsolicited tracking and profiling of users, of a range of personal information violations etc.
When Google came out with Android, they failed to provide any sort of unique device identifier of any significance to their developer community. They did provide several ways for developers to get some seemingly unique identifier, but those were easily modifiable, sometimes were not set at all or set to the same value across all devices sold by an OEM. In addition they would get reset after a factory wipe, etc. Developers resorted to DIY identifiers, scoured and composed from several unique component identifiers available to them by the system, such as the IMEI in phone devices, or the MAC address of the WiFi network interface in others. Then Google released Android 2.3 which included a unique identifier which, while better than the previous ones, was still not 100% robust.
Microsoft has belatedly joined the new-walled-garden era, first with Windows Phone 7 and now with Windows 8. The ‘new’ API and model for applications, Metro, goes one step further by not providing any single unique device identification capability to developers (there are some exceptions, but they are truly exceptional and as of right now undocumented). The only thing close to user/device authentication is ‘Microsoft Account’ (formerly Windows Live, Passport etc. etc.) integration which is probably useless for 99% of the cross-platform applications available out there, that have a need for some sort of unique identification of their users/devices.
It’s the permissions stupid.
The whole situation boils down to botched design in terms of permission control, abuse by advertising, analytics and developers and extremely late regulatory and social reaction to the above, perhaps combined with a pretty simple way to raise barriers to entry to the competition while ‘solving’ the issue of privacy. All platforms have some sort of privacy/permission control, but none have a good one. Android has a pretty comprehensive permission system that assumes that before installing an application each user bothers to read a silly list of permissions (many of which they will probably not understand) and once they accept they will perpetually want to grant all those permissions to said application. There is no fine grained permission control post installation, no possibility to grant or revoke individual permissions to applications before they are launched (something like “I would like to allow App X to use my network connection, but not my location or my address book data”). iOS is also similarly badly designed: there is no explicit permission asked or required for using the network connection, a slew of personal data, several APIs, storage etc., except for location, where iOS does a much better job than Android, probably because of the high-profile exposure that their data-collection ‘functionality’ took a few years ago. At the same time, both platforms actively transmit information gathered by your device, be it nearby BSSIDs (the identifiers of wifi networks, akin to ethernet MAC addresses) or Cell IDs (the unique identifiers of nearby cellular transmitter/antennae) so that they improve their ‘network-based’ geolocation service. Google fares better in this respect, as they allow you to disable this; Apple doesn’t, as far as I know.
Then comes Microsoft, the ailing software behemoth that only recently decided that Balmer’s rhetoric about the iPhone’s failings, the iPad not gaining any significant traction etc. was totally wrong after all, and that they should jump on the tablet bandwagon, not in the way they’ve been trying to do for about a decade, but the way Apple did with their own version of a walled garden, doing away with the desktop paradigm and providing a dumbed down, simpler interface that does away with compatibility, file-systems etc and uses a locked down, app store/marketplace based model to ensure software legitimacy and boost profits. So Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 provide new sets of APIs and a new ‘application environment’ called Metro. In the Windows 8 version, the æsthetics borrow much more than its name from Windows Phone 7, the company’s revamped operating system for mobile phones that, while a decent effort, doesn’t seem to be doing that great on the market. Metro on Windows 8, however, is not a finished product by any means, and probably won’t be ‘finished’ (that is of a sufficiently high quality) until Windows 9 is released in a few years from now. Metro on Windows 8 also has permissions, like Android, but does away with unique device identifiers and any sort of meaningful API to get any sort of replacement of one. It also allows the user to revoke a permission (say, for the location), but only after the application has be executed, which kind of defeats the purpose.
My experience with the ‘next-generation’ platforms I have programmed on until now strongly suggests that the companies and people designing them have no idea about the implications of their work. They are experimenting, releasing APIs, platforms and products without thinking them through, or the impact their software has on the users, developers building applications using them or the overall social effect of their design decisions. In the case of Android, many more developers have access to IMEIs, MAC addresses and other, arguably much more sensitive information about devices and their users than they would have, had Google paid some attention and provided a unique, immutable pseudo-random unique device identifier from day one. It is also surprising how bad their permissions system is, given that they at least went through the trouble of designing one in the first place. In the case of Microsoft, the complete lack of such a mechanism, may eventually play its part in hurting the company’s efforts to enter the game (they already are extremely late). And finally, Apple, the market leader that did so many things right in the first place, is risking pissing off everybody from small independent companies that helped build the platform, to its greatest non-platform owning competitors that can see through the excuse of legal heat from regulators and the government, their hypocrisy on protecting the users’ privacy and who may call their action as an excuse to block them out of their platform. At the end of the day, the three big players in this market still get all your information, and their expansion into advertising, mobile payments, e-commerce and every single part of the software ecosystem possible means that they have the greatest incentive to (ab)use it.
In the end, all of the privacy problems that location, unique device identification and access to other personal information may give rise to are easily solvable by a modern, smart permission system that gives the user the power to deny, revoke or grant permissions to individual applications post installation, including system software/applications, thus creating a level playing field where the user would decide what kind of access to provide to whom. That would be a clear demonstration, on the platform owners’ part, that they truly care about users’ privacy and not just creating barriers to entry to the competition and their bottom line.