The company has applied for a patent that covers a variety of security measures to automatically protect iPhone users from thieves and other unauthorized users. But one of the uses of the patent would be to protect Apple’s interests, which may be in conflict with those of users.
The patent appears to cover technologies that would detect and circumvent “jailbreaking,” which refers to running software that lets a user gain access to wider capabilities than Apple allows. With jailbroken phones, users can unlock their phones so they can use carriers that are not authorized by Apple. Jailbreaking is often the only resort for users who want to use iPhones in countries where Apple doesn’t have an authorized carrier. Jailbreaking was recently deemed permissible in the U.S. as a fair use right for users.
The application was published Thursday. Apple filed it in February. It describes the identification of “hacking, jailbreaking, unlocking or removal of a SIM card” so that measures can be taken to counter the user. Responses to such actions could be to activate the iPhone’s camera, geotag the image, and then uploading it to a server. Or it could transmit sensitive data to a server and then wipe it from the device. This is effectively a kill switch, but Apple describes it as a way to protect users from unauthorized users.
The patent application suggests that Apple could detect unauthorized users by voice-printing the owner and activating an accelerometer to see if a phone thief is in transit. Essentially, the system allows Apple to wipe out the memory of a phone from afar if it deems a user is under attack. But the system may not be able to distinguish thefts from cases when a user is simply trying to escape from Apple’s rules about jailbreaking.