Ooooh, I want one of those iPanopticons sooooo bad

Geek and Hype iPod touch shared CC by pickupjojo

How illuminating… every time Chairman Steve does one of his high-gloss sales-pitches, my Twitter and RSS feeds are overrun by panting consumption lust, usually from people who make their livings as some form of ‘technology expert’… I suppose it’s too much to expect critical detachment or even a modicum of dignity, that gear is so shiny… And really, what says “Think Different” more eloquently than a social network that is built around an online store?

If you are interested in what conspicuous consumers will be drooling over in the years to come, check out the new hotness they are getting ready to patent:

This patent application does nothing short of providing a roadmap for how Apple can — and presumably will — spy on its customers and control the way its customers use Apple products.

…Here’s a sample of the kinds of information Apple plans to collect:

  • 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.

In other words, Apple will know who you are, where you are, and what you are doing and saying and even how fast your heart is beating. In some embodiments of Apple’s “invention,” this information “can be gathered every time the electronic device is turned on, unlocked, or used.” When an “unauthorized use” is detected, Apple can contact a “responsible party.” A “responsible party” may be the device’s owner, it may also be “proper authorities or the police.”

Apple does not explain what it will do with all of this collected information on its users, how long it will maintain this information, how it will use this information, or if it will share this information with other third parties. We know based on long experience that if Apple collects this information, law enforcement will come for it, and may even order Apple to turn it on for reasons other than simply returning a lost phone to its owner.

Stephen Downes, who somehow manages to outblog us all even when he is camping on a hurricane path, has a nifty take: “You know what would be nice? It would be if Apple succeeded in patenting spyware and then launched lawsuits to prevent anyone else from using spyware. Then all we would have to do to avoid spyware would be to avoid using Apple. That would be great.”

In any event, it will be exciting to watch Apple’s continuing war of innovation continue against Google, won’t it?

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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6 Responses to Ooooh, I want one of those iPanopticons sooooo bad

  1. Where’s that Flattr button? I have an urge coming on….

  2. blamb says:

    Ha ha! I’ve been trying to think of the best cause for those pennies… Maybe just go give David Lowery another click for me?

  3. Will do.

    Personally I think even if all we do is end up giving each other gifts and breaking exactly even it doesn’t matter. It’s like buying rounds at a bar. Assuming no one gets horribly screwed people end up even, but everyone feels like someone bought them a beer. That’s the neat thing about gift economies — when they work they build relationships even when you end up zero-sum. The act of giving to David Lowery is pleasurable in itself because it builds a relationship — it’s like buying him a beer.

    I understand that putting a flattr button on a UBC served blog may be difficult (I’ve only put them on my personal blog, and I’ve made my peace with attaching the flattr button to things I write that are related to my job as something that will at best barely cover the hosting, and is at any rate going to be redistributed anyway). So that part I don’t know what do about — I think it’s a place where the gift economy and the market economy clash right now, though I don’t think they should — I’m not going to be lured out of what I should be doing in my job for a 75 cent tip….

  4. Andy Rush says:

    Since I can’t comment at the EFF website, lucky you, I will comment on your post. 😉

    First, this is a patent “application”. Apple has not been awarded this patent so the statement from the article that “Apple plans to collect” various types of information is quite premature. In addition, nowhere in the claims for the patent is there any reference to collecting information and storing. The information would be gathered if any one of the listed “triggers” would be activated, such as a limit in the number of attempted passwords is reached.

    If Apple is granted this patent with all of the claims intact (unlikely), then we reach the next stage. Are these features that customers even want in their phone? If they are, then we reach yet another stage. The only way this would be palatable to virtually anyone is if the owner could only have these features enabled if they opt in. In other words, accept an agreement that these features would be enabled. IF all of those stages are reached, at the first sign of Apple abusing any of those features, they wouldn’t sell another iPhone, lawsuits would be filed in massive waves, and it would call into question ALL of Apple’s other products. It would be an understatement to say that this would put Apple in an unfavorable light.

    In my view Apple is simply aiming to patent all of the different ways that it can aid in recovering an iDevice that has been stolen. Whether they are good ideas or not, is a completely separate issue. The patent does not guarantee that those features make it into any final product. Patents typically include the kitchen sink and they get narrowed to a small number of claims.

    All of the capabilities that the claims outline are already in the iPhone, as features, now. Audio recording, still photos, heart rate measure. However, they would have to be activated in a very specific, and legal, circumstance that is miles away from an actual product with these abilities. The ability exists right now to disable a stolen phone through Mobile Me. Other phones have similar “kill switches”.

    The EFF has a job to bring to light information such as this. Good for them. Unfortunately they quickly jump to sensationalizing the intent of this patent. A patent doesn’t “allow Apple to identify and punish users who take advantage of those exemptions or otherwise tinker with their devices” – the market will – or rather, it won’t.

  5. blamb says:

    @Mike – You are dead-on that having this blog hosted by UBC is what makes me a bit uneasy (though I imagine raising a few cents for a good cause would be allowed). But you make a good case for rethinking the ad-based economy, and while I am not convinced that Flattr is THE answer, it does reflect a thoughtful and worthwhile response.

    @Andy, I’m honoured to be your second choice for this response. You should also post it on your essential, awesome, essentially awesome blog And He Blogs. I actually did a bit of web trolling looking for something precisely like your comment (but not that hard, I was feeling snarky and wanted to figuratively poke a few eyes… as you may have guessed).

    I’ll defer to your statements of fact regarding the status and the likely success of this patent. I’ll even grant that “theft protection” may be the primary intent of the technology. But I am not prepared to assume all the best possible intentions with how this technology might be applied. Apple has shown it is more than willing to play hardball with people who jailbreak their devices (that recent ‘legalization’ notwithstanding), and if they were to acquire the effective means to enforce future restrictive conditions, I find it hard to believe that they would not be tempted to use them.

    Apple has certainly demonstrated to me that it has serious control-freak tendencies in its culture. I just had to update my iPhone’s “terms of service” for the fourth time in three months — a 59 page document I had to assert I had “read and agreed” just to update my existing apps! And the many bizarre episodes of App Store content censorship and blocking competition are well known.

    And as the EFF article points out — reasonably, I think — there is every possibility this technology will be hijacked by law enforcement or intelligence agencies. The NSA currently intercepts and stores 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and “other types of communications” every single day. Are you confident they won’t try to use the capabilities described in this patent application? Then again, if we aren’t doing anything wrong, what have we got to worry about, right?

    Andy, you make a good case that the EFF presents only part of the story in the interests of juicing the story. But I remain unconvinced that we should “trust” Apple with invasive technology.

  6. Andy Rush says:

    So I must follow up and say thank you for the nice compliments. I certainly understand the need to poke eyes and get the snark on (@jimgroom is my office mate after all). I have the utmost respect for you and your work, and I couldn’t agree more that Apple should not be trusted with invasive technology. I’m just waiting until it exists first. As you can tell, I’m no fan of the slippery slope argument.

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