Apple’s “We’re Gonna Creep You Out On Your IPhone” Patent

Back in 1984, the upstart Apple Computer revealed a ground-breaking television commercial during the broadcast of Super Bowl XVIII, the infamous “Big Brother” ad that announced the introduction of the Macintosh Computer:

Note the words used as the tagline:

And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.

Apparently, Apple has decided to wait until 2010 to make it seem like 1984. In a recent patent application, Apple describes a set of features and functions they plan to develop for some of their devices, with the focus apparently on the iPhone. If you take a few minutes to read this application, you’ll begin to realize that Apple is planning on creating a real Orwellian world among its iPhone users, all in the name of protecting the device from unauthorized use.

First of all, let’s get something straight about cell phone security. Assume for the moment that you own a typical GSM-based cellular device (I’m sure the world of CDMA phones and ESNs is similar). All GSM cellular devices can be uniquely identified by the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. While hardly 100% foolproof or effective in preventing unauthorized use, if a GSM phone owner loses their device or the device is stolen, the victim can contact the cellular vendor and provide the IMEI number and request the phone be blocked from usage by anyone else. This usually only works in the country where the phone was originally sold, and there are allegedly ways to reprogram the original IMEI number to a new one (but not legally and not without great difficulty and costly equipment). Nevertheless, it’s a good immediate response to prevent someone from using your device after a theft or while you try to recover it.

(Note: this means you should make a record of the IMEI and the cell’s serial number and model when you buy it).

Apple, however, is looking out for their users, and they plan on utilizing some truly creepy features on their devices. The goal is to make certain the the device is being used by an “authorized” user. A short list of these “features” includes:

“…a microphone operable to record the voice of the current user…to…compare the recorded voice with voice prints of authorized user of the electronic device; and determine that the recorded voice does not match the voice print of any authorized user of the electronic device…”

“…a heartbeat sensor operable to detect the heartbeat of the current user…to…compare the detected heartbeat with heart signatures of each authorized user of the electronic device; and determine that detected the heartbeat does not match the heart signature of any authorized user of the electronic device…”

“…a camera operable to take a photograph of the vicinity of the electronic device; and positioning circuitry operable to determine current location information of the electronic device; and wherein the processor is further operable to: geotag the photograph by associating the photograph with the current location information…”

“…an electronic device comprising; an input device operable to receive a password provided by a user; a camera operable to take a photograph of the user; a processor operable to: determine that a predetermined number of incorrect passwords have been successively received; direct the camera to take a photograph of the user; and generate an alert notification in response to the processor determining, wherein the alert notification comprises information related to the identity of the user and the photograph of the user; and communications circuitry operable to transmit the alert notification to a remote device….”

“…wherein the alert notification is transmitted via one of text message, facsimile, VoIP application, instant messaging application, on-line profile application, on-line blog application, and a cloud server…”

Let me sum up…

You buy an iPhone. You then will be required (I assume this will be a requirement) to submit, to Apple or their agent, digital prints of your speaking voice, a photograph of your face, recordings of your heartbeat, and, apparently, photographs of locations you hang out at, in addition to sample ambient sounds and vibrations from said hangouts, in addition to other possible identifying factors. Apple is going to store all these things on some server, and when they’re suspicious of the person who happens to be using your phone, they’re going to activate all these tools, gather some biometric information and compare what they get to what they have in storage.

What could possibly go wrong?

And I suppose if it ain’t you holding the phone when the Apple police arrive, you’re going to wind up strapped to a table next to poor old Winston Smith, waiting for some shock treatment to get you right in your mind.

My first question would be: what if more than one person uses my phone? What if I loan the phone to my wife, my daughter, a friend? Does this unexpected change in voice patterns indicate some foul play afoot? Am I going to be forced to bail my wife out of the joint because I made the boneheaded decision to loan her my iPhone?

Naturally, the truly frightening aspect to this is the idea that all this biometric information is stored on some server that can be reached in seconds using the cellular phone networks. What are the chances that those servers aren’t going to be the targets of attacks by people seeing to steal some identifying information about Apple customers?

What I find particular disconcerting is that there are three people listed on the patent application as developers of these ideas and concepts. I can’t imagine that they didn’t sit down and discuss these ideas and plans without some chill running up their own spines about the invasion of privacy all this “security” is going to provide.

However, here is the most frightening things of all: millions of Apple iPhone users will likely think this is a terrific idea, and will gladly upgrade their current, non-spying-capable iPhone to the latest Big-Brother-Is-Calling device the moment it’s released to the public. Trust me, people will beat the doors down at the local AT&T store to get one. And at full price, too.

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