Apple seeks patent to prevent ‘unauthorised’ iPhone use

23 Aug 2010

Apple has applied for an extensive patent in order to identify and disable stolen, jailbroken or unlocked iPhones and iPads.

Titled “Systems and Methods for Identifying Unauthorised Users of an Electronic Device”, the patent can find an unauthorised user by identifying activities such as “hacking, jailbreaking, unlocking, or removal of a SIM card”.

If a device detects that any of these activities have occurred, possible responses under the patent will include activating the iPhone’s camera to identify the user, geotagging and audio recording the area to determine its location, and logging keystrokes made by the user to record their activity.

Sensitive data on the phone could also be sent to a server and then removed from the device in order to prevent unauthorised users from accessing it.

Other responses apparently also cover a heartbeat sensor and an accelerometer to detect whether phone thieves are in transit.

While the patent says that these measures are in place in order to help them track iPhone thieves, many feel that this is Apple’s latest attempt at cracking down on users who jailbreak or unlock their devices.

Jailbreaking is the act of overriding the inbuilt lockdowns of an Apple device in order to run third party apps not approved by Apple. Unlocking is the removal of the restrictions that lock a phone into only being usable in certain countries or networks.

The US recently made the act of jailbreaking legal, provided it is for the purpose of accessing a telecoms network and done with the network owner’s permission.

Tech publication The Register feels that these measures detailed in the patent are “Orwellian”, for both reasons of privacy infringement and control issues.

“Ignoring the possibility that a false positive in Apple’s proposed theft protection might activate the spy cam while the user is in the bath, or in the middle of some other intimate moment, this technology seems Orwellian for another reason: It gives Steve Jobs and Co the means to retaliate when iPhones aren’t being used in ways Cupertino doesn’t expressly permit,” reports The Register.