Last Tuesday, we all sat glued to our twitter feeds and livestreams as Apple wowed us with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and the Apple Watch. But if you paid close attention, you may have noticed that Apple didn’t just grace us with some fancy new baubles. They announced a third big reveal… every iTunes account holder was given a free copy of U2’s new album Songs of Innocence. I think Apple was hoping that everyone would be like “Oh, some free stuff. Free stuff is great. Thanks Apple!”
Instead, everyone freaked the hell out because while it was intended to be a nice gesture, it actually said a lot about how Apple (and every other tech company and even the government) views our right to privacy. Namely, that it doesn’t. The problem, of course, isn’t that Apple gave everyone a free copy of a new U2 album (which I’m sure is perfectly fine). It’s HOW they did it. They could have given iTunes users a link to the free download, but instead they went ahead and automatically downloaded the album onto your iPhone and iPad!
Just to reiterate. Apple downloaded an album onto your phone without your consent. If you haven’t already, go ahead and check your phone. I’ll wait. You should see a screen that looks a lot like this:
If you’re like me, you didn’t put it there. This intrusion concerns me because it's such a brazen statement about the state of privacy in this country. Between Facebook’s repeated privacy grabs and manipulations, and the NSAs long-storied collection of personal data, our individual privacy has been under aggressive assault for some time. This is just the latest - albeit a mostly benign - example.
Americans heavily prize their privacy, which makes it ground zero for parties that view individual privacy as a barrier to financial ascendancy or homeland security. These parties use the contentious legal status of privacy as leverage to intrude into your life without your consent. And believe it or not, privacy is a contentious issue... In fact, the Constitution does not mention privacy as a given right. Our modern understanding of the right to privacy is implied from other rights, specifically the 1st Amendment (right of belief), 3rd Amendment (privacy of the home), 4th Amendment (privacy of person and possessions), 5th Amendment (right against self-incrimination), 9th Amendment (no denial of other implicit rights), and the liberty clause of the 14th Amendment. These amendments all touch on privacy in their own way, but never address is explicitly. The Supreme Court calls these implications “penumbras” and “emanations.” That is, the right of privacy implicitly emanates from these other rights. And I think that lack of explicitness is why privacy is always a moving target.
And let’s face it, as a society, our sense of privacy (and it’s inextricable little brother, consent) is always shifting. A few weeks ago, the iCloud accounts of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities were hacked and their private nude photos leaked. When the photos were taken down from various sites, a cry rang out from certain corners of the internet who believed they should have access to those photos even though they were always intended to be private.
So I ask you, is privacy a relic of the 20th century? And if not, what can be done to curtail its utter demise? No one should be forced to own something just because it’s free, but soon enough it may not even be an option.