The privacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls the Apple
patent application for a method to monitor and perhaps disable jailbroken and unlocked iDevices "traitorware." They would call it spyware
, they stated, but because of certain aspects of the technology involved, they preferred "traitorware."
As we noted earlier
, the Apple patent application mentions jailbroken devices, which sort of belies any notion that it's all about security. As the EFF says, "it's not just spyware, it's 'traitorware,' since it is designed to allow Apple to retaliate against you if you do something Apple doesn't like."
The technology would be a little invasive, to say the least, with the potential to record a voice, match it against voice patterns of authorized users, take images of the surroundings, and even monitor and pattern match heartbeats. That seems way over the top for what most consumers would be willing to allow to be monitored, but also, as EFF states:
This patented device enables Apple to secretly collect, store and potentially use sensitive biometric information about you. This is dangerous in two ways: First, it is far more than what is needed just to protect you against a lost or stolen phone. It's extremely privacy-invasive and it puts you at great risk if Apple's data on you are compromised. But it's not only the biometric data that are a concern. Second, Apple's technology includes various types of usage monitoring — also very privacy-invasive.
Indeed, a caution over privacy is what many have noted with respect to the patent application. The EFF lists the following as "features" in the patent application:
- The system can take a picture of the user's face, "without a flash, any noise, or any indication that a picture is being taken to prevent the current user from knowing he is being photographed";
- The system can record the user's voice, whether or not a phone call is even being made;
- The system can determine the user's unique individual heartbeat "signature";
- To determine if the device has been hacked, the device can watch for "a sudden increase in memory usage of the electronic device";
- The user's "Internet activity can be monitored or any communication packets that are served to the electronic device can be recorded"; and
- The device can take a photograph of the surrounding location to determine where it is being used.
The EFF was instrumental in the recent decision in which the U.S. Library of Congress gave a DMCA exception to jailbreak
ing and unlocking. The organization said that Apple came up with its idea for this technology "while users were celebrating the new jailbreaking and unlocking exemptions." That's not entirely correct, as Apple submitted the patent in 2009, but it is clear that despite what the new DMCA exemptions say, Apple has previously said that it considered jailbreaking illegal.
The final paragraph in the EFF's statement is:
This patent is downright creepy and invasive — certainly far more than would be needed to respond to the possible loss of a phone. Spyware, and its new cousin traitorware, will hurt customers and companies alike — Apple should shelve this idea before it backfires on both it and its customers.
Creepy is a good description: any technology that monitors our heartbeat (and isn't medical in nature) is far too intrusive for us.