Will Future iPhones Tattle On You?

Apple may have found a new way to force you to tell the truth about how well you’ve taken care of your iPhone or iPod. A recent patent filed by the company describes a customer abuse detection system that will allow technicians to tell if you’ve been too hard on Apple devices. Instances of abuse could include things such as immersing the device in liquid, exposing it to extreme temperatures, dropping it, or tampering with the device’s internal circuitry.

This detection system could store a digital recording of the event in the device’s memory anytime abuse occurs. Using diagnostic tools, technicians could access this information to find out how well you’ve taken care of your iPhone or iPod. If you’ve treated the device poorly, Apple could make the argument that your warranty is void and you’re not eligible for repair or replacement under warranty.

Apple doesn’t explicitly say that it will use the customer abuse detection system to refuse device repairs or replacements, but the patent does suggest the company is looking for a way to protect its own interest. The patent states, “it is not uncommon for consumers to receive replacement products or repair services on abused products not covered under the terms of a warranty. Such erroneous replacements or repairs may be costly to the vendor and/or manufacturer of the product.”

The trouble with a customer abuse detection system such as the one described comes down to the way in which the information is used. For example, say you accidentally drop your iPhone and then a month or so later something goes wrong and the iPhone fails to function. Should the accidental drop mean you’re no longer entitled to a warranty, especially if the phone continued to function after the drop? Most people would probably argue that the two events are not necessarily related and that Apple should still honor the warranty. However, with a consumer abuse detection system, Apple may see things differently.

Before we jump to conclusions, it’s important to point out that Apple has not said it will use the customer abuse detection system against customers to refuse warranty work. It’s only a possibility. There’s also the possibility that the customer abuse detection system would only be used in situations where there is a very clear connection between the abuse and a device’s inoperability. Finally, it’s important to remember that this is only a patent—Apple has not made any official announcements saying it will deploy a customer abuse detection system.