Truth to Power

Egypt to Apple: Dumb down the iPhone

Life, liberty and GPS: What technology means in Egypt

Among international outrages, depriving citizens of personalized maps seems far down on the list.

Still, that was the condition put on the introduction of Apple’s 3G iPhone in Egypt. The government demanded that Apple disable the phone’s global-positioning system, arguing that GPS was a military prerogative.

The company apparently complied, most likely taking a cue from the telecommunication companies that sell the phone there, said Ahmed Gabr, who runs a blog in Egypt,, and wrote about the iPhone’s release there. “The point is that using a GPS unit you can get accurate coordinates of any place, and thus military bases and so on could be easily tagged,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

It is enough to make one wonder if new technologies – the personal computer, the Web, the smartphone – will help set us free or merely give us that illusion.

Apple modified its phone without any public acknowledgment. In a series of e-mail exchanges and brief telephone conversations, an Apple spokeswoman detailed the success of the iPhone rollout around the world – a total of 13 million phones shipped since it was introduced in June 2007, and more than 200 million applications downloaded.

But she did not address how the iPhone came to be disabled or whether Apple had a policy it followed in modifying its products to meet the demands of governments worldwide.

This issue remains acutely relevant as Apple negotiates the introduction of the iPhone to China, whose estimated 500 million users make it the big kahuna of cellphone markets. Some reports say that in addition to issues like revenue sharing, there has been talk about modifying the phone so as not to use the 3G network or offer Wi-Fi capability.</em>

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