Hobson’s Choice

My mobile phone is increasingly the most powerful data aggregation service in my life. It knows everything from my whereabouts to my where I should be abouts; it processes information about the world around me in audio and video; it pulls together my communications and my social networks; it gives me access to my business, my finances, my travels; it just about does everything (smartphone makers take note) but make the tea.

As a result the data it processes and the data it can access is fairly central to my well being. There is reassurance that every time I look to install a new application, I’m given a view as to what access to my life the new software is looking to obtain to be able to function. Except increasingly for many services this information is providing the illusion of choice.

Sure, for an unknown piece of software from an unknown source, the App permissions page can give a quick check as to whether the thing is likely to be up to no good (especially in the somewhat Wild West world of the Android app store). But for the big players, the binary choice of Install or Don’t Install is no choice at all. Want a browser? Want access to a social network? Play by their rules or not at all.

Sure, I could withdraw myself from the digital world, but realistically that is becoming harder and harder. Why can’t I choose what permissions I want an app to have, rather than the developer giving me an all or nothing ultimatum? Yes, in many cases failure to grant permissions to particular services might banjax the entire app; a GPS navigation tool without access to location, for example, would be less than useless. But shouldn’t that be my choice if this talk about “permissions” really had any depth?

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