Lame as it may both sound and be, the most instructive techno-adventure of my current junket in Brazil was the disappearance – temporary, as it fortunately turned out – of my iPod Touch.
Hardly adventure novel stuff, I admit, but the episode did bring home to me just how quickly I have become dependent on that technology, and just how careless its ease of use has made me – and, I suspect a lot of other people like me.
The brief and un-thrilling back story is as follows:
At the time I was writing my article two weeks ago, I was in the shade of a tree in the botanical gardens in the southern city of Curitiba.
I was using my netbook to do the actual writing, and the iPod touch both for some preparatory notes I had jotted down, and for musical entertainment, should it prove necessary, as I composed.
My shady space not being equipped with a bench, I emptied out my shoulder sack and used it to keep the grass stains off my shorts (yes, shorts: read it and weep, people).
When I reached about mid-point in the article, my wife returned from her run through the gardens, and I shut down my computer, re-packed my bag, and went off with her for the day’s further adventures.
Only when the evening rolled around, and I was working again on the story in the hotel room, did I find the iPod was not in any of my pockets, nor in my shoulder bag.
Since we had seldom done more than sit down more than very briefly anywhere else, it seemed reasonable to assume that I had left it in that shady spot in the gardens – gardens which were now closed for the night.
I passed a relatively restless night (though probably due as much to the smothering 37-degree heat as to an discomfort about the lost possession), thinking about what would happen if somebody else had chanced upon my gadget over the course of the day.
Because of their high purchase cost and restrictive digital rights management features, iPods and iPhones are not big sellers in Brazil, where budget MP3 players and cellphones like Samsung and Nokia rule the day.
The relative rarity of my gadget, though, might very well increase its value to any Brazilian who chanced upon it, though only once they had performed what is called a “jailbreak”on it, to allow it to work outside of the limitations built into it by Apple Computers.
So my stray iPod faced two immediate dangers: being found by some unscrupulous Brazilian with a salutary indifference to the United States’ radically stupid digital copyright protection regulations; or being inundated by one of the awe-inspiring thunder storms that are characteristic of Brazil at this time of year, and are even more frequent and violent this year.
Given a choice between the two, I decided, I would definitely prefer the latter, since it meant my data security and personal privacy could not be intruded upon.
Though it is possible to password-protect access to your iPod Touch, I do not do so, because it introduces a normally needless delay accessing the thing.
Anyone finding my iPod, then, would have immediate access to my six GB or so of music, plus the notes in the “Awesome Note” application I use so frequently, along with the to-do’s in my calendar.
None of that amounts to a very big deal; what concerned me most was the privacy of my e-mail application, and the contents of my photo album on the machine.
Neither of these applications were password protected, either; and, though neither of them contained anything untoward or incriminating in any way, it was an uncomfortable feeling, thinking of someone else reading my personal messages (assuming they could read English), or browsing through my small collection of photos of me, my wife, and members of my family.
Furthermore, I had my Skype application also set to automatically sign in to the Skype network, with no password protection.
Though, as an iPod Touch, not an iPhone, my machine was not capable of making voice-over-IP phone calls, anyone finding it could conceivably run up the bill on my Skype account (which is set to automatically re-set its balance to $14 once it falls below $3) by sending out a stream of text messages at around 25 cents a message.
To avoid all those security and financial risks, I used the wireless connection at our hotel that night to re-set my e-mail and Skype passwords. There was not much I could do to protect the privacy of my photo collection.
As I did all this, I silently read myself a riot act for having allowed habit and ease of use to overcome my instinct, acquired from many years in the IT industry, to protect my data privacy and security.
The iPod touch is such a handy, intuitive little machine you forget it is still a computer, and subject to pretty much all the dangers of any other computer – with the added one that it easily goes astray.
As it turned out, my tawdry little story had a happy ending.
Though we drew a blank upon returning to the shady tree in the park, and when we inquired at the desk for lost articles, the iPod touch turned up in my wife’s day pack, though how it got there remains one of those mysteries deep as the Amazon jungle itself.
OK, so this is a story a long way from battling piranha fish and dung-flinging howler monkeys in the tropical dark of the Amazon; but this story, whatever it lacks in plot and character, at least has a moral to it:
IPods and other such portable digital devices can say more about you – and to people you really don’t want them talking to – than you care to think.
Be careful what you put on them, and what secrets you let them know about you.
Rick Steele is a technology
junkie who lives in Whitehorse.