As the world seems poised to begin another year, we find ourselves collectively asking how large security agencies and corporations managed to get around our sense of privacy and fair play. For sure, lawyers and Constitutional scholars will debate that for years, however I don’t think the early causes are that hard to nail down. It would seem, to me at least, that our security problem relates to one core issue: the entrenched belief that devices and PCs are something fundamentally different when they actually aren’t.
I don’t know when it happened. But at some point device manufacturers like Apple, Microsoft and Google managed to convince users that the devices we keep in our pockets and on our night stands weren’t PCs, and unfortunately we believed them. Really, devices and PCs are loaded terms.
For now, the personal computer is thought of as a laptop and desktop, a device that includes a hard drive that can be removed and software that be modified by viruses. I suspect the infinite possibilities of a PC are the actual culprit here. Users see the personal computer as something that it’s free-wheeling ways make it vulnerable enough to not be trust. They see it as a device that needs to be watched and mistrusted.
On the other hand, devices are seen as something more docile. Apple’s iOS operating system for the iPhone and iPad have convinced users that devices are something different, something safer that allows them to do the things they’d normally do with a PC but without the security risk.
For example, iOS can only install applications from the iTunes App Store and those applications are put through in admission process. According to Apple, every app is tested before it makes its way to users. It’s a move Microsoft copied for Windows 8 and Windows Phone.
The problem here is that the belief that mobile devices aren’t PCs has made users complacent. Devices are PCs. They contain web cams and processors. They have access to the internet and information that can be easily compromised, and users need to understand this to protect themselves.
Devices are PCs and PCs are devices, and the sooner users realize this the better off they’ll be. They’ll be able to more easily lobby their government officials for better privacy protections. They’ll feel safer with notebooks, desktops, tablets and more. Every iPhone, Xbox and tablet is a PC. It’s time to stop treating them like they aren’t and begin to address how they software gets on them and how users maintain them.