Don’t Leave the Light On: Visualizing Privacy in iOS14
The iOS14 update offers new forms of visualizing privacy, through features such as the camera indicator light and (still forthcoming) opt-in tracking. Rather than put pressure on the developer, these features act to visualize the continued shift of power over digital privacy from the corporation to the individual. This article takes a critical approach in analyzing the visualization of user privacy.
Visuals of an Algorithmic Gaze
Apple’s iOS software update started rolling out earlier this month and along with a slew of new customizable features, Apple has placed significant focus on privacy. Users now have more options in restricting photo use by individual apps, secure Sign In with Apple features are capable across more platforms, and Safari for Web and iOS now present tracking reports (“iOS14”). With the new “approximate location” toggle feature, users can now allow apps (like weather or local news) to make an approximation in order to provide them with relevant data (O’Flaherty). An indicator light tells users when an app is using their camera or microphone, and Apple’s Control Center feature will specify which app(s) have been using those features recently (“iOS14”). Also featured in this month’s iOS launch (but still forthcoming) is the App Store requirement that developers provide detailed privacy usage reports upfront, along with the option that users be allowed to opt-in to tracking (“User Privacy and Data Use”).
Is this a big step for user privacy on iOS devices? If the last 13 years of smartphone proliferation has taught us anything, it should be a heightened wariness about “dataveillance” — the discreet kind of data collection that “vampirically feeds off of our identities, our “likes,” and our everyday habits” (Gitelman, 10). The adage if you’re not paying for it; you’re the product becomes especially poignant as we subject our every day moves to “an algorithmic gaze, a machine vision that emphasizes market values like productivity, efficiency, profit, and mitigation of risk and liability” (Silverman 149). The idea of tracking is not new — search engine DuckDuckGo and various third-party browser extensions have been exposing tracking like the Safari update for years, and the Google Play store has been allowing users to see which privacy settings an app may ask for since 2012 (Kummer and Shulte 2019).
However, the camera indicator light in iOS14 begets a new form of visualizing privacy, one that directly invokes the image of an “algorithmic gaze.” The past invisibility of data collection is made visible by a small green eye that blinks open in the corner of the screen. You know you’re being watched, but what are you going to do about it?
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