Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak captivated a tech-savvy audience in San Francisco today by warning that society is moving towards "a police state," calling for public resistance to the unrestricted collection of marketing data, and speculating that Apple could produce iPhones that run on Google's "not-so-fenced-in" Android operating system.
Wozniak, who engineered the Apple II computer, broached the wide range of issues during the 45-minute question-and-answer session in a keynote appearance at AppsWorld, a trade show that pulled together thousands of technologists and marketers focused on the development of new software applications on mobile and fixed devices.
About 130 seats were set up for the early morning appearance, but Wozniak drew a crowd measured in the hundreds as he spoke.
His comments about the iPhone followed a question from the audience about the future of Blackberry, which once dominated the business mobile phone market.
Wozniak noted that he suggested two years ago that Blackberry could regain lost ground by developing an Android-based phone, but it appears to be too late now. "I think they would have had a chance if they really ran with Android," he said. "Even Apple could build an Android.”
Later, in reply to a question from CMSWire, he said Apple could supplement its iPhone offerings with "actual devices that play the Android game -- open to the world and no so fenced in."
Apple's rules for developing applications for its iOS system are generally regarded as being much stricter than Google's requirements for Android apps. He said the phones would allow Apple to play in "two arenas" at the same time.
“We could compete very well," he said. "People might like the precious looks and styling and manufacturing that we do in our products compared to the other Android offerings.”
He quickly added it was up to the executives at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. to decide. “The leaders at Apple would be much more adroit at making all the business considerations – dozens of considerations -- on whether that is smart or not," he said. "But there is nothing that would keep Apple out of the Android market as a secondary phone market.”
Much of his presentation focused on the loss of privacy in the Internet Age, both through the collection of personal data by marketing efforts and the growing powers of the police. Wozniak, a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which seeks to protect personal privacy, repeatedly said he was "afraid" of what's coming. He noted that not long ago, police needed a court order to tap your phone. "Now they say anybody can be tapped."
"What is the future," he asked. "Were we right in the past? We had a lot of laws to protect people for certain reasons, because if you get a prosecutor that can do anything -- you get government agencies [and] police who can do anything, you get a police state. They’re judge, jury and executioner, and can hide you away secretly. No, we’re on a bad path in that direction, and we should have a lot of protections for law-abiding individuals.”
He also noted "we don't have any regulations" to control the collection of personal information. He noted companies today track "everything we do," including the use of credit cards, monitoring movements through mobile tracking, and with some applications "your cell phone camera can get turned on and they can have embarrassing pictures to blackmail you with.”
“I’m kind of afraid of that. We need to put up a little resistance and say ‘Be honest with me. Tell me what you know and what you don’t, how much you’re watching me and how much you’re not'," he said.
“I think a lot of companies like Apple started out young and idealistic. You don’t want to deceive your users. You want to protect them."