Letter From the Editor

What I Learned Going to an Apple Store During the Pandemic

A lesson in temperature checks and data deletion

Damon Beres
OneZero
Published in
4 min readAug 10, 2020

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The Apple Store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Photo:
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

On Sunday, a man at the Apple Store pointed a temperature scanner at my forehead and pressed a button. It made me think of a tired grocer grabbing shrink-wrapped Tyson chicken from the conveyor belt and registering its bar code.

My number came up — 97.5, a bit lower than usual — and I was escorted past the Purell dispenser into the store’s basement, where an employee ran diagnostics on my iPhone. (Verdict: The screen was cracked.) He told me to come back in 90 minutes, at which point a team member would bring the repaired device outside to me and ring me up for the cost of the screen replacement. “Oh, and you backed up your data, right?” (I’m glad he asked, since the technician ended up deleting everything on my phone — more on that in a second.)

This was my first real experience with what you might call pandemic-surveillance capitalism, a new shopping experience that demands proof of health, or some semblance of it, on top of other information. To browse or get a device serviced, customers of this Apple Store, at least, now need to make an appointment ahead of time—a fair step to control traffic into the store and maintain social distancing. The temperature check is the final requirement of entry. (Apple says it doesn’t record the data from this process.) Again, reasonable.

But the new procedures, unobtrusive and justifiable though they may be, served as a reminder that we’re teetering on the edge of a new era of consumer tracking. Early in the pandemic, OneZero’s Emily Mullin wrote on the prospect of immunity passports that could rise from Covid-19 surveillance efforts, creating a new privileged class of people who move through the world with relative ease, provided they have the right antibodies. That’s a far cry from getting your temperature taken at the door; then again, if I was turned away with a fried phone thanks to a low-grade fever from the common cold, I can imagine feeling pretty frustrated.

Of course, we already submit ourselves to plenty of tracking as it is. Making the appointment on my iPhone triggered a confirmation note to be sent to my Gmail, which Google can

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Damon Beres
OneZero

Co-Founder and Former Editor in Chief, OneZero at Medium