It’s Not Stalking When You Give it All Away

    Truth is, I’m not a tech-savvy user with a brain that runs like an RSS feed and eyes that process the world through an Instagram lens. I have a grand total of five unique apps, and none of them include Angry Birds — though I’m sure someone out there finds my audio Mandarin dictionary just as intriguing.

    The mail feature is defunct because I hate becoming anxious over new messages that turn out to be from coworkers asking about Friday’s pizza order. I’ve purposefully made Safari difficult to access. I have no videos. Worst of all, I’m scared of Foursquare and won’t let my phone know where I am, or allow my friends to check me into “Places” on Facebook.

    Last night, it took me two hours, three attempts and five occurrences of force-quitting iTunes to download the new iPhone 5 software — and afterward, it looked like all I had to show were Newsstand and Reminder features. But, according to Roberto Baldwin of Wired, the upgrade does have an important, invisible component: enhanced location services.

    “Location services” denotes the GPS-based technology that allows the Maps function to know your exact location and the Nike+ app to track the length of a run. With the new iOS, apps like the aforementioned Foursquare and Reminders will let users know via notifications when there’s something interesting nearby, be it a historical landmark or a four-star restaurant.

    It’ll show us tailored bits of esoterica we might otherwise miss. It’ll make us become more integrated with our environment. And, says Baldwin, it’ll also “allow us to be stalked like never before.”

    Therein lies the dilemma.

    This self-proclaimed privacy freak is no stranger to the crime of overshare (just ask my seventh-grade Xanga), but in recent years I’ve become increasingly obsessed with Web and location privacy. We’ve all heard the “Facebook is Big Brother” spiel and tired 1984 references.

    There’s research galore about the harm of obsessively curating online personas and the effects of being watched. For example, a study covered by Scientific American showed that people cleaned up after themselves more when there was a poster with an image of human eyes nearby. And if you thought that the data doesn’t add up, there’s even a 2010 documentary, “Erasing David,” about a British man who tries to disappear off the grid. Predictably, his trackers use his online and location information — what David calls “datarape” — to find him after 18 days.

    So when even the illusion of being watched is enough to modify behavior and most of us are never truly alone, what’s a girl to do?

    I’ll be the first to admit that, ironically, I need location-based services more than anyone I know. As someone who only recently took the “student driver” sign off her car — nearly three years after getting her license — I’d probably be stuck moving within a radius of 10 miles if it weren’t for the wonders of my in-car GPS.

    Luddite streak aside, I do sometimes want everyone to know that I’m blowing $50 on an entreé at Whisk n’ Ladle. And yes, I realize the silliness and logical inconsistency of avoiding this particular type of technology.

    It’s not that I think that the government is tracking my movements, or that anyone cares that I don’t go out on Friday nights but instead sit at my desk doing LTRU123 readings.  But my desire to be able to be truly alone, without anyone watching or able to find me, and thus for my life to be truly my own and not under scrutiny, has always been stronger than my thirst for novelty or convenience.

    So for the time being, I’ll continue disabling location services and notifications and, rather hypocritically, using my in-car GPS instead of the one on my phone — though I know there’s not much difference from “the man” knowing where my car is versus “the man” knowing where I am.

    I’ll continue looking up restaurants by “near San Diego” instead of “nearby” and resisting the urge to brag during the rare occurrence I actually go somewhere.

    Sometime soon, I’ll either learn that Apple is tracking me regardless and then turn full-heartedly to location services, or location services will become so integrated that I can’t do without.

    But until then, it’s — for as long as I can stand it — me, myself and I. And someone in the passenger seat to help me check where I’m going.

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