The message is clear. Apple doesn't care about privacy. It wants to know who is using its products, and where. What I want to know is, what's Apple going to do if you pay for an iPhone that later turns up being used unlocked by someone else? Is it really going to hunt you down and attempt to charge you with something? Please.
I really miss the good old days when you didn't have to give anyone personal information to buy stuff. These days, I get harassed at the local mall and supermarket for either my ZIP code or telephone number so I can be added to some marketing database (I politely decline, and if the salesperson is insistent, I give them 555-1212.)
Don't people have the right to buy stuff in privacy, without some corporation getting a peek at their buying habits? What if porn shops suddenly started asking for ZIP codes and telephone numbers? I bet no one would stand for that.
I actually witnessed an exasperated customer attempt to pay cash for an iPhone on Saturday. I had stopped into the local Apple store to pick up Leopard, and the guy in front of me pulled out a stack of hundreds to pay for an iPhone. The Apple Store employee informed him that a new policy was in place and he had to use a credit card. There also was a little sign next to the register explaining the policy. They went back and forth for a few minutes, but in the end the guy used his plastic. He was clearly unhappy about it, though.
In the end, is it really a super big deal that you have to use a credit card to buy an iPhone? Probably not. But consumers should always be able to use the payment method of their choice.