Strong Silent Types: Evil Robots and Their Way with Words

Some People Hate the new iPhone's Fingerprint Scanner

Here's what Boing Boing writer Xeni Jardin said once the iPhone 5S's (long-anticipated) fingerprint sensor had been officially announced:

Although it isn't actually mandatory, the idea of having a fingerprint scanner on a phone has got some people a little upset. @YourAnonNews tweeted a wry one-sentence review which concluded, "slightly improved battery life and camera quality isn't worth the fingerprinting." They later joked, chiming in with others, that the scanner was the NSA's "wet dream".

For many in the hacker or hacktivist community, the new feature will be a turn-off. Apple's announcement attempted to explicitly reassure consumers that fingerprint data would not be stored on Apple's servers, nor be backed-up in the iCloud. But there was strong encouragement for users to activate the feature once they get their hands on a new 5S, seemingly because fingerprint-authorised purchases are now part of Apple's strategy.

Needless to say, that isn't going to convince your average Anon. Apple dumped a cool $365 million on the table for AuthenTec last year for their state-of-the-art fingerprint scanning technology (and several other patents). But since then, stories about government surveillance, hackable face recognition apps and civil liberties campaigns have perhaps altered the public's willingness to embrace this kind of technology.

Many of the comments I saw on social networks this evening about the 5S scanner ranged from snippy jokes about the NSA to sincere-sounding pledges never to buy another iPhone.

Scepticism and scoffing are pretty rife, though there are of course those (like Marissa Mayer) who simply think it's "cool".

Casual admirers aside, Apple has somewhat awkwardly just launched a space-age new feature at a time when there is a very visible split in public enthusiasm for such innovation. And I think Cook et al were fully aware of this - hence this comment during the announcement right before an explanation of the fingerprint sensor's specifications: "It's not just rampant technology for technology's sake."

This sentiment was repeated in Tim Cook's closing remarks, too, when he said, "We don't just pack in feature after feature." Apple wants to appear that it is acting on behalf of the consumer and that their choices are very carefully considered. One of the most damaging aspects of the NSA revelations was that they and other tech giants had supposedly been forced into secretly supplying government agencies with information about their own customers.

And only yesterday, German magazine SPIEGEL published extraordinary revelations about how the NSA may be able to retrieve huge amounts of data from smartphones.

Apple chiefs and shareholders must be hoping that the flashiest new feature on their flagship iDevice won't turn out to be a thorn in their side. Especially at a time when Apple's market dominance faces tough questions amid growing enthusiasm for commendable and cheaper alternatives to their notoriously expensive products.


Photo: "Fingerprint" by CPOA. Reproduced under a Creative Commons (CC) License.

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