Why Apple’s fingerprint iPhone is a step too far

Yesterday, surrounded by all the trappings we have come to associate with a new Apple product launch, the company unveiled the iPhone 5S and 5C. The 5S is slated to become the new premium product featuring a better camera and a fingerprint security scanner whilst the 5C will be a budget version of the camera with a plastic body.

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iPhone 5S (image copyright Apple)

Typically the phone has come in for a lot of praise and most of the criticism has so far been around the fact that the product developments are largely expected. This is pretty harsh after all what are the critics expecting; a tricorder from Star Trek perhaps?

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The 5C is in itself a worthy phone and develops the product along the lines laid down by Steve Jobs many years ago when he famously said that Apple should ‘cannibalise their products before someone else does’. Producing a budget version of one of the world’s best selling phones simply takes the legs from ‘me too’ competitors and provides a defensible competitive position. The 5S on the other hand takes things a step further and provides a worrying insight into the future.

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We’ve almost become inured to technological developments over recent years, so much so that when Google introduces ‘Glass’ utilising a system that knows where you are and what you can see, barely anyone bats an eyelid. Now Apple has a new phone that incorporates fingerprint technology and it is billed as an improvement in user experience and reviewers are gushing all over it.

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Let’s take a step back for a moment; it doesn’t have to be that far, let’s take it back just over ten years to 2002 when Labours’ then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, outlined plans to introduce national ID cards for the first time since World War Two. There was a huge public outcry against the plans and banner headlines in the press announced the loss of our freedoms if these plans went ahead. Various Governments battled with plans to implement this over a seven year period until in 2010 they gave up the ghost having spent by some estimates over £10bn and getting no more than 15,000 cards into circulation. Crucially the ID cards were supposed to include biometric data including fingerprints which would have meant the world’s largest fingerprint database and on that basis the project floundered.

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Critics of the scheme pointed out that it was an intrusion on our personal liberties, that it breached basic human rights and freedoms and ultimately we were being asked to give up our personal data so ‘Big Brother’ could access it at any point and for any reason. It seems however that all these concerns evaporate when we are talking about a shiny new iPhone.

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Today Apple are reassuring people that the fingerprint scan is to be stored inside the phone on the A7 chip and not in the Cloud and according to one source this makes it ‘NSA tapping proof’ however we’re not convinced. What is happening here is that in the interests of progress people are being convinced that it is a step forward to voluntarily provide a scan of your fingerprint to secure your phone. Now we’re not suggesting that Apple are a bad company, nor that they have any ulterior motive other than to improve user experience however we would urge everyone to consider the following before buying the new phone:

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  • Any electronic device is vulnerable
  • No company in the world is safe from data breaches; even Apple lost over 12 million records in 2012 – take a look at this worrying infographic
  • Whilst it might be reassuring that no fingerprints are to be stored in the cloud, remember that all Companies amend their terms and conditions over time
  • You are voluntarily giving up data that previous generations fought wars to protect
  • Your data is being entrusted to an organisation, in this case Apple but increasingly Google and Facebook as well. These are publicly floated companies with shareholders and they are in business to make money. They do not look on data the same way a Government does.
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Now having said all of that it might be that this new iPhone is the ‘bees’ knees’ and the smartest, sleekest thing to ever hit the high streets. We’re under no illusions that it will sell like hot cakes and millions of people will voluntarily give their data to this device and by default to Apple. All we are saying is if it all goes wrong don’t say you weren’t warned.

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Oh and just in case you want to buy the phone here’s a link to the lovely people at Apple