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Opinion: As Apple moves further into data, it's time we start taking responsibility for our own

With Apple moving into health and fitness and quantifying our lives even further, more data about us is going to be gathered.

Quinton O'Reilly

WITH APPLE’S ANNOUNCEMENT done and dusted, the focus has been very much on the products and services themselves. Apple Watch, Apple Pay and the introduction of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will be topics that will be discussed for the next week or two.

Yet among this talk, there’s one element that won’t be mentioned nearly as much: Apple’s continued move into data.

Expanding the business 

When you think of Apple, the first thing you will think of is hardware. iPhones, iPads, Macs, Macbooks, iPods will all come to mind and then after that software like iOS and OS X. Yet there’s a third area that Apple has been expanding into for years now, but is rarely mentioned: data.

It may sound strange initially as such a description is usually for companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Services that are free to use yet use your data to produce advertisements or improve current services with personalised suggestions and recommendations.

Yet Apple has been focusing on this area for a while now. Granted some of these ventures didn’t go according to plan (Apple Maps and Siri would be two examples), but it’s slowly improving.

Now with the company moving into health, the home, our cars and into mobile payment, this is going to be more prevalent than ever, and it will likely signal the moment where the average person is exposed to these sectors.

Setting trends 

Say what you want about Apple, but its influence is enough to set trends and convince regular people to invest, or at least make a good stab at it.

Hardware is ultimately disposable. For a smartphone, it only takes three to four years for a new model to go out of date, despite diminishing improvements with each new model announced.

On the other hand, data is lifelong. While interests and sites can change, people’s habits and personalities rarely do. That kind of data is important for a number of reasons, while the obvious (and cynical) reason might be ads, this data is used to improve our lives, offer relevant suggestions and ultimately make things more convenient for us, the user.

Yet mention this to someone and chances are they won’t care (unless it’s something that manages to delight or anger them, most likely the latter), they just care about two things: does it work and is it simple to use?

It’s an approach Apple has down to a tee – and is one of the reasons why it’s so successful – but with our reliance on digital services increasing, isn’t it time that we brought ourselves up to speed with technology in general?

Digital literacy

It’s probably fair to say that for a large number of people, there a significant gap when it comes to understanding technology or digital literacy.

Most people know how to use a computer or a smartphone, but their use is mostly limited to a few specific tasks or services like Facebook or WhatsApp. It’s learning the bare minimum because it gets you by, nothing more.

Unless something negative happens, then it’s unlikely that anyone will learn about a device or service and that’s worrying considering how significant a role they play in our day-to-day lives

Every so often, there’s an argument that coding and computer science should be taught in schools, and while few are going to argue against that logic (and it’s a discussion for another time), the discussion ignores a few key factors.

Assuming that kids already know everything about technology simply because their generation is the first to grow up with it is a little naive. Just because you happen to use something doesn’t mean you understand it and it’s unreasonable to assume that all kids understand their actions when they post something online or sign up to a service.

Shouldn’t aspects like online etiquette, what happens when something is posted and what your data is used for be covered as well, and have coding for those who are interested?

And while we’re saying that, adults shouldn’t be excused from this topic. Considering the crossroads we’re at with regards to data usage among services, it’s more important than ever that we know why something is happening and what the relationship is between user and digital companies.

Blurred lines 

The line separating everyday life and technology is so blurred, and has been for a while, it’s pointless to assume that the two are mutually exclusive. Yet our attitudes to it are mostly passive.

The saying ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ comes into play here. Only knowing the bare minimum means that a lot of the opinion surrounding technology is mostly incomplete, which is little help when you’re trying to make a decision or properly question something.

To throw a quick example, the reaction to Facebook Messenger’s permissions was over the top, despite the company’s history with privacy concerns. The permissions required were pretty much standard practice and there was no unreasonable requests from it.

Yet because of the wording – and let’s face it, Facebook didn’t help matters by making people download Messenger – claims of how Facebook would spy on you by turning on your camera, track your movements and access your phone calls and messages circulated quickly. The reality is much tamer than that, but once hysteria begins, it’s very difficult to stop it.

And that’s probably the first place for us to start, understanding the basic services we’re using and the relationship we have with them. Not all companies play hard and fast with data, but deciding which companies are trustworthy should come down to knowing where your data is going and you feel what you get in return (personalisation, recommendations, etc.) is a fair trade.

Technology’s role in our day-to-day lives is only going to grow, and we owe it to ourselves to take the initiative and learn about it, otherwise we will truly be left behind.

 Read: Guess how much the new iPhones will cost…

Read: Here’s a graph of Apple’s share price, compared with when U2 walked on stage>

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About the author:

Quinton O'Reilly

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