Monday, June 07, 2010

Apple FaceTime and Big Brother

I watched the Apple keynote today, including the hilarious moment where the demo collapsed, working on the old iPhone but not on the new one (see, it happened to Google and then to Apple, they are in a fight!).

The main announcement was pretty obvious: a video chat application called FaceTime (BTW, I got 100% of my sure and likely predictions, zero surprises). I believe I was still in Italy when 3 launched their videophone, and I have moved to Silicon Valley eleven years ago... Can't say it is magical or innovative, in particular because it works only on wi-fi (the 3 videophone worked on the cellular network...), although the two cameras support looks cool. And their video is a gem of marketing (despite having a hard time believing the room where I saw my daughter on the ultrasound machine had wi-fi :-)).

What is new about FaceTime?

Simple: there is no friends list. None.

You look at your address book and boom, all your friends who own an iPhone 4 have the videochat feature automatically enabled. No need to log in, no need to see a list of your friends. Easy (see bye bye to Skype).

How do they do it? Well, you can only guess. Let me try (hoping to be wrong and that there is a lot more opt-in to do). NOTE: I added the mapping on the email address, because I now think it is actually what they are going to do, since they already have that information in their servers via iTunes (it is your login).

They have you connected to their servers all the time, because of push (at least). They suck out your cellphone number (or email) and put it in their server, mapping it to your current IP (did I give Apple permission to suck out my cellphone/email number??). They look into your address book and find everyone you have in there which has a cellphone/email they have in their list (mmmhhh, did I give Apple permission to map my phone number/email into your address book??). When you click for a FaceTime, they open a peer-to-peer connection from your phone to their phone over IP (wi-fi only for now).

If this is the case, it is borderline. Actually, a bit bigbrotherish. Apple collecting all cellphone numbers/email of all iPhone users (which they already do for email, since it is your login name on iTunes). Mapping them at will on your address book... I guess if this works for Apple, it is going to work for Google as well (they can do exactly the same thing on Android).
Big Brother at work. Are you willing to trade some privacy over features? Probably yes: just a small percentage of the population is scared about it.

Still, open source and open cloud look a lot safer to me.