Smart-phones are hip. Between the futuristic revolutionary appeal of rebels coordinating national campaigns with texts and tweets, and the status implied by sporting the most recent iPhone with all the apps, they’re making the news almost daily. But like all things hip, the news isn’t all good. Behind the happy image of the cool and liberated consumer with their cutting edge gadgets are some very ugly realities, and they’re all things we should think about before buying into the latest computerized fashion accessories.

First there’s the ongoing scandal involving location data logs in iPhones. It turns out there’s a hidden file which keeps a log of all the cell-tower data, which can be used as a 10-month record of all your movements. This fact is enraging many customers who see it as a threat to their security and privacy. Apple is also in hot water this week over reports of working conditions at its factories which have been described as “inhuman“.

Security concerns are also exploding over Facebook as Julian Assange recently publicly stated that it might be the most appalling spying machine ever invented. He’s accusing it of being used as a tool of US Government investigations and warning everyone to mind their privacy. Facebook claims it only does this when warrants are presented, but given a recent report that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved every single request in 2009, that’s not exactly comforting.

Then there’s the new issues with Google’s Android App shop, which was supposed to be an alternative to Apple-style central control. They’ve begun to restrict tethering apps for Customers of Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T.. “Tethering” lets you use your phone and it’s internet connection to connect another device (like a laptop) and surf the net. It’s popular because it allows you to connect to the internet nearly anywhere, but it costs valuable bandwidth and companies would prefer to be able to charge special teathering fees. AT&T has also caused problems for RIM by restricting the tethering app for Blackberry phones, which is the only way their tablet, the Playbook, can connect to the internet.

The teathering disputes resemble many others in recent memory – such as the iPhone jailbreaking scandal, And then there’s the attempt at Usage Based Billing by Canadian internet providers, where they attempted to foist higher prices for subscribers of smaller internet providers. These technologies allow people to use them in ways the companies would never have imagined (or budgeted for), which often leaves them wishing they hadn’t offered “unlimited” service. But it also raises important questions about what we’re buying when we purchase these gadgets and contracts, and what rights we have as customers. Once we’ve bought and paid for these goods and services – do we have the right to run what we want on them, or not run what we explicitly don’t want?

As nifty as these gadgets and services are, and as many fantastic possibilities they hold, there are serious drawbacks too. The corporations providing them are not our friends, and are far more interested in costing us money than any new technological revolution which might cost them money or market share. This is visible in how the products are designed, produced, and paid for, and it’s clear we have a long way to come before these technologies are truly “liberating”.

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