Apple Patent Filing Hints at High Tech iPhone Tracking

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A recently published Apple patent application hints at the company’s plans to improve iPhone security by giving users new ways to track and identify who is using their combination iPod and smartphone if it is lost or stolen. The patent application is also stirring up controversy thanks to a reference to jailbreaking as a way to identify unauthorized users.

The patent application describes a system where an iPhone can be used to collect data such as geotagged photographs of who is using the device, user heartbeat patterns, current GPS location, voice recordings, screenshots, and Internet data packet logs. The iPhone could also track movement and vibration patterns to determine if it is in a car, train, airplane, or other vehicle.

Once collected, the data can be transmitted to the device’s actual owner, police, or specific contacts from the user’s Address Book database. Once a user has determined that their iPhone is out of their control, they can remotely lock applications and data, and can remotely wipe data from the device.

The patent also details suspicious activities that could be used to identify when an unauthorized user has gained access to your iPhone, such as failed password attempts, hacking, removing the SIM card, taking the iPhone outside of a predetermined area, and unlocking or jailbreaking the device.

The list of ways an iPhone could potentially self-determine if it has been stolen may be impressive, but it’s the mention of using jailbreaking as a method seems to be drawing the most attention. While Apple may not be overly pleased with the notion that iPhone users might choose to hack their device to install unauthorized third-party apps, there isn’t any indication in the patent application that the company plans use that as an excuse to remotely wipe user’s data without permission.

[Thanks to Patently Apple for the heads up.]

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8 Comments Leave Your Own

Hilary

When are they going to make an app that tells you if you’re being tracked?

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Removing the SIM card. Hilarious. For me, that was an indication that my Nexus One arrived and the 3GS was going to spend the rest of its life in a drawer.

But seriously, this probably has more to do with eventually using the device to make purchases than anything else. But consolidating things you carry has to be win/win. Like when I got my Nexus One, the TomTom went into the drawer to keep the 3GS company (phone + navigation). Or, when I got my 3GS, the iPod Touch went into the drawer with my old Sprint phone (phone + music player). Consolidating devices made sense in those cases. In both cases, replacing two devices with one didn’t cost me any functionality or flexibility. If replacing your wallet and phone with iPhone costs you not being able to use Cydia, maybe it’s a tougher call.

Motorhead1024

Sounds like a smokescreen… LoJack for lost iPhones gives you some help in finding the phone before the battery dies, but you don’t need the capability to remotely lock/wipe the phone since one call to AT&T will do that, and LoJack for stolen iPhones is useless since no cop has the time to run down every “stolen” iPhone (most of which are actually just “lost” anyway).

Dustin

I think this is an invasion of privacy.  If I’m paying X number of dollars for the device the company in this case Apple, shouldn’t be allowed to spy on me to detect whether I am using it legally or illegally.

Tiger

Dustin, you do realize that with services like On-Star, GPS, etc., you can be tracked in your car? You can already be tracked on your phone. Traffic and security cameras record your movement. Ever been to the UK? Try going off grid. And here in the US, we’re rapidly catching up.

Our movements are tracked on a daily basis. All for the sake of security and targeting us for ads that “fit our lifestyle.” Yeah, right.

I don’t believe it either.

Joseph

Tiger,

I agree with Dustin. Companies are reaching too far into the privacy of the individual. Why should we pay them to track us down to our hearbeat patterns. Note Apple will also use facial recognition software. Are you comfortable allowing anyone with access to Apple’s “security” to watch you in your own home?

P.S. Who wants or needs Onstar? Seriously? Onstar is not a selling point in my opinion. No, I don’t want to give anyone remote control of my car or the authority to listen to me while I’m driving. If used for good, perhaps these are great technologies. But is this always the case? Way to open yourself up to identity theft, stalking, and invasive regulation of your person.

antikythera

@Hilary That’s a good idea.  How about an app that will track the tracker?

computerbandgeek

The other important aspect of this patent filing that this article failed to mention is that it describes methods to detect and remotely wipe devices whose software has been “modified” or “compromised”. In other words, by monitoring obscure aspects of the operating system such as sudden increases in the amount of used RAM will enable them to detect and remotely disable jailbroken devices. The other 99% of articles I have read on this patent primarily discuss this issue, but it is strangely lacking at TMO…

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