Vulnerable at the Phone Fixer Shop

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Edited bikini pic from my phone

I don’t have any naked pictures on my phone. Naked pics aren’t my thing. But, I have taken pics of myself in undies to demonstrate the kind of bikini I wanted to buy. And I have a pic of myself in a bikini in Mexico. So, if you had my phone, you wouldn’t find anything too racy. The undies pic could be a Kohl’s ad. And I literally walked down a beach in Cabo San Lucas in that bikini last month. But, if you are my Facebook or Insta pal, you’ll recall that neither of those pics appeared online. Why? I guess I just don’t want to post pictures of myself in a bikini. It’s just not my thing.

A few days ago I did a story on-air about how Apple is throttling speeds on older iPhones like mine, the iPhone 6S. With every “update,” the phones get slower. Apple purposely slows down the processing speed to accommodate the aging batteries in older phones. I wasn’t losing my mind; my phone IS slower. The fix? A new battery rather than a new phone. Since I always buy the Apple warranty, AppleCare Plus, I was told the battery replacement would be free.

I made it to the local Apple place; always in a basement. Very cordial male computer geeks were waiting on a guy who had his wife’s laptop and external hard drive. He left it there to be “saved” by the geeks who know the mysteries of computers.

When it was my turn they tested the battery and told me to come back the next day. While I was there I noticed the techs kept coming in and out of a locked door. I left knowing I’d be back the next day – but the idea of turning over my phone creeped me out. Why? It’s not as if there’s much to find. So why did I feel so icky? And why did I feel uncomfortable for the man who’d left his wife’s computer behind?

It’s the issue of privacy. And the locked doors. When you go to places like an Apple service provider, Best Buy, Verizon, or wherever – you are just turning things over to a stranger with no assurance of privacy. All your communications. Your writings. Your pictures. Your web searches.

That man just left his wife’s computer and hard drive. Such a personal thing. So much on there. Did he just hand over his wife’s diary? Her emails? Her credit card numbers? Does she have naked pics on there? From the tone of his chat with the tech, he wasn’t taking it there for a routine checkup.

Many of us go to the dentist or doc for routine checkups. But how many of us take a trip to the computer shop or phone store to see if they are running well? And before we go, do we wipe every personal thing off of them? Not likely. We usually go when they crash; in the middle of something important like a personal email, specs of a new invention, or a break-up text. So, when the computer comes back to life in the hands of the tech, there is our life, for their perusing.

Just like we often head to the hospital when our body crashes. Or to a lawyer when our life crashes. But at least when we visit a doctor or lawyer we feel like the things we say are gonna be kept secret. We are in the room with the doctor or lawyer. We are part of it. The doc is gonna tell us what she finds. The lawyer doesn’t know our secret sins unless we tell him.

So the next day when I returned, I gave them the passcode to my phone and asked if I could watch them replace the battery. They said it was not allowed by Apple – and the guy disappeared behind the locked door. Such an icky feeling. The tech was just one click away from all my emails, all my photos, all my texts, and the credit card numbers that are stored in my phone’s wallet app. So, when this tech guy came out from behind the curtain, so to speak, was he going to know what I looked like in my underwear? Will he know that I have three kids? Will he know where I work and that one of my Nashville reps just sent me a bunch of download codes for a new country album to give away on-air? How the fuck will I know? He will know. I won’t know a thing.

A few minutes into my wait one of the techs came out and we had a great chat. I asked him about the locked door and he told me Apple has all kinds of rules. The tech working on Apple phones has to be behind a locked door and cameras watch him as he works. There is also a very pricey piece of equipment that replaces phone screens, hence the added security.

I was very blunt and said “What if I had naked pics on my phone?” He said “Delete them before you get here.” I asked about bringing in a computer and all the personal information they contain, and he said “Apple says to wipe your computer clean before any repair by backing it up with Time Machine and an external hard drive.”

All I heard was blah, blah, blah. That’s like saying don’t have a heart attack while sitting on the toilet. Again, most people visit computer and phone repair places when the devices aren’t working. So having a chance to end the text, stop the writing, log off of Dropbox, or whatever, is not always an option.

Sure, backing things up for safe-keeping is always a good idea. That’s why I back up to iCloud. But computers and phones don’t whack out at convenient times.

We shouldn’t have to worry that Snoopy McSnoopPants is going to read our stuff and look through our photos. There is no transparency for the consumer. There should be a window where we can see what they are doing. What’s the big secret Apple? We should be able to watch what the tech is doing just like the window at Krispy Kreme donuts. I don’t care about Apple covering their ass. I want them to care about mine. Well, not really – just my figurative ass.

I am generally a trusting person and I’m guessing that the tech working on my phone the other day didn’t have the time nor inclination to look through my phone. From what I’ve read online about this issue, many techs just want to get your phone or computer fixed. They have enough to do without taking time to look through your personal stuff.

But I also know human nature. Perhaps you’ve seen stories about pics being taken off phones. Or emails being read or credit card numbers taken. Sure, there are many times when our private information is vulnerable, but often, we feel “safe.” Like when we share information with doctors, lawyers, ministers, therapists, bankers, mortgage lenders, teachers, and the like. But in those cases we feel protected by laws. But when we go to a computer or phone store “broken,” we have no such sense of security. At least it doesn’t feel that way.

Kudos to those of you who can make yourself feel “safe” before dropping off a computer. You can encrypt, log out, wipe clean, or whatever. But you gotta know there’s plenty of folks who have a hard time just figuring out how to save to iCloud. For them, learning how to erase all personal ties from a computer is out of the question. And as I said, sometimes you get caught with your pants down – or, with a document open. Your computer crashes mid-something. I write, a lot, and some of it is for my eyes only. If my computer crashed while I was writing in my journal, it would later open under the gaze of a computer tech. I would hope he or she would not read it.

If I did have a heart attack on the toilet I would assume the paramedics would come to my aid and cover me with a blanket to protect my privacy. I’m not sure there is a standard protocol for techs who see private information. Close the file to protect privacy or keep looking cause it’s titillating?

From reading blogs, I know techs sometimes see stuff they don’t want to see, like child porn. And they see things they “don’t want to see” while doing the job of fixing a phone or computer. That’s what happens in a profession where you deal with private information. I’m sure nurses and teachers hear a lot during the course of a day. But they are trained on how to deal with it. Is the Geek Squad? The phone techs at Verizon? Apple techs?

Perhaps a computer or phone tech should not be thought of as an “electronics geek.” They are dealing with private information. They aren’t just fixing an electronic component like a TV or fridge. Ethics training needs to be implemented because they are not just dealing with a motherboard and microchips.

And as far as I know, there are no protections for us when it comes to handing over our electronic selves. Apple just takes them behind a locked curtain.

* I have no complaint about the service I got at the Apple service provider. My phone works great now. My complaint is with Apple.

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