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Privacy and the iPad: Is there a concern?

by on September 28th, 2010

Last week, I mentioned to a friend of mine that I am an active owner and user of an iPad, and her first question wasn’t the expected “Oh, how do you like it?” or “Oh, shiny, can I play with it?”, but rather, it was simply “Do you use it in public?”. Her primary concern wasn’t of me getting mugged on the street or anything of that nature. In fact, she was most concerned about my privacy, and what a larger screen would mean for passersby on buses, cafes and parks.

While I have few concerns over random people peeking over me while watching the latest Top Gear or reading my eBooks, other privacy issues do bug me. In an age of Twitter, Facebook & Foursquare, privacy has taken a backseat to convenience and connectivity at your fingertips. With our iPads and iPhones becoming our professional lifelines outside of the office, can we trust these devices to safeguard our personal and corporate information? Can we trust Apple? In my opinion, the answer is maybe. However, the real answer is a lot more complex.

Apple has certainly come a long way to protect personal data since the first iPhone. They’ve introduced on-device encryption, auto data erasure on failed passcode attempts, and Find My iPhone to find lost devices; there will even be more security features to come in iOS 4.2. However, many of these features has its fatal flaws, and can ultimately fail users.

What Apple Fails to Do

My main security gripes involve security features that are merely cosmetic or optional or lenient. Two that are top of mind are Auto Data Wipe and Find My iPhone. My primary concern with Auto Data Wipe is simply that it’s an optional setting. In order for security to be top of mind and taken seriously, core security features such as data wipe can not be optional.

On the surface, Find My iPhone and Remote Wipe are also fantastic security features. However, both are only available as part of the MobileMe suite. If Apple were truly serious in protecting user and data security, they would offer these services freely to all iOS devices. Instead, at $109 per year subscription, they have clearly signaled that user security is a two-tiered system and shouldn’t be offered to everyone. This is simply unacceptable.

What Apple Does Well

So Apple dropped the ball on a few core security features, but they do a few other things well. Apple boasts of 256-bit AES on-device encryption, and this goes a long way to protecting user data. It’s integral to iOS, and can’t be turned off. They’ve also incorporated text-based passwords to strengthen the unlocking mechanism, as well as many other enterprise level security features.

As we continue to integrate our iPads into both our professional and personal lives, our data privacy will grow as a concern. Is privacy top of mind for you? If so, do you think Apple is doing a good job protecting our personal information? Or could they do more? Let us know in the comments below!

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Posted under: Polls

  • The Shadow

    Seems to me that there is a perception that Apple has to babysit us in all of our shortcomings. Simply put, there has to be some responsibility on our parts in areas like security. If I am too careless and dont lock my car or my home I dont have anybody else to blame than myself if I get victimized. Having said that I think there are plenty of tools on the devices (iPad, iPod, iPhone, etc) that are meant to be used at discretion.
    I am happy with the status quo.

  • http://www.iphoneincanada.ca Gary

    Some of my friends don’t bother with passcodes on their iPhones. With the amount of info we all have on the iPhone/iPad, it would be scary to lose the device and have it all out in the open.

  • Anonymous

    HI Sam,
    On an off topic you mentioned watching Top Gear on your ipad. I was wondering where you were getting that from.
    It is a great show I would love to watch on my ipad.
    Thanks

  • http://twitter.com/scwleung Sam Leung

    I’m grabbing it off iTunes :-)

  • http://twitter.com/scwleung Sam Leung

    I’m grabbing it off iTunes :-)

  • Mike Hunt

    I’m looking for private browser apps I can use to browse un dected and this is a must for our small company, we and several associates se this as a threat with the big corperates and their muscle muscle us out and capitalize on privacy, but there is no real privacy, your iPad ID and IP number which helps the hackers track you whether it’s corporate espionage or a stalker is already apprehended anyway, so proxies and security should be seriously considered.