Peeping Tim

Monday afternoon, at the tail end of a jam-packed and incredible keynote, Craig Federighi introduced yet another “kit” — HomeKit. Continuing an impressive trend present throughout the presentation, this framework makes your entire house an accessory to the iPhone in iOS 8 by allowing those with compatible systems to control everything from security cameras and door locks to lights and, although not explicitly stated, other devices such as thermostats too. Unsurprisingly, the feedback I have seen thus far has remained universally positive: if not the utility of such an advancement, everyone recognizes the implications of Apple tying so many once-disparate systems together into a single, usable, and — most importantly — enjoyable system. Completely absent from this commentary, however, is any discussion of privacy or even the notion that giving Apple so many hooks into one’s personal life could, at some point, become a concern.

But why?

Google got raked over the coals for buying Nest, a thermostat manufacturer, that could not have given Google much more personal information than its owner’s preferred climate settings. Perhaps these settings could have allowed Google to infer other things such as when the house went unoccupied, for example, but those suppositions would have remained just that: guesses. Yet Apple, that will soon not only have access to, but control as well, quite literally every aspect of a house — including the thermostat, ironically — has received quite literally zero criticism. Those assumptions Google could guess at but yet never quite confirm, Apple could prove with a simple algorithm watching a webcam feed or by connecting with a security system. Incredible — yes, but at the same time, a completely justifiable seemingly double standard.

Essentially, it comes down to Google having every incentive to track every single aspect of a given individual’s life so that they can, ultimately, serve up more targeted and thus more valuable advertising. As I explained previously, Google+ was built in service of that goal: rather than the Facebook competitor the public immediately painted it, Google+ allowed Google to better identify, track, and target individual users with a specificity previously exclusive to Facebook. Apple, on the other hand, has but one incentive: to create outstanding user experiences so that they can, ultimately, properly compel you to purchase the next iteration of their hit product and, over time, become more involved in the Apple ecosystem. It is this very disparity in motivation that makes the former creepy and the latter comforting, and the single most important reason I would have no problem inviting Apple into my home, but would only extend a similar invitation to Google with significant reticence.