Apple is working on a patent that would use voice and facial recognition technology to activate a "kill switch" on its iPhone, shutting it down when hackers jailbreak the phone or try to steal information on another iPhone from an unsuspecting user.
Apple would track "suspicious behavior," the company said, including comparing the "identity of the current user to the identity of the owner of the electronic device," then notify the legal owner of the iPhone about the possible hack.
Marc Rotenberg, Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director, worries about the possibilities of such a kill switch system.
“Companies that sell products to consumers should not be able to enforce their views as to what constitutes 'unauthorized use' post sale," he said. "Users should be able to control the use of their products, and that includes jailbreaking iPhones if they wish."
Lee Tien, a senior attorney for the Electronic Fronter Foundation, agrees.
"The stuff in the patent that has to do with jailbreaking is an obvious concern, because that’s completely legal behavior – it’s not like theft." Tien said there are some "scary" issues around the technology, including where data collected by Apple would stored, and who would have access to it.
"Hopefully this would be entirely up to the consumer or user of the device whether or not they were going to buy into it at all," Tien said.
The company's patent includes several ways in which it would find iPhone scofflaws. In some cases, Apple said, "a photograph of the current user can be taken, a recording of the current user's voice can be recorded, the heartbeat of the current user can be recorded, or any combination of the above.
"The photograph, recording, or heartbeat can be compared, respectively, to a photograph, recording, or heartbeat of authorized users of the electronic device to determine whether they match. If they do not match, the current user can be detected as an unauthorized user."
The ways a registered owner uses the iPhone and where it's used could also be obtained, Apple said. "For example, information such as the current's user's photograph, a voice recording of the current user, screenshots of the electronic device, keylogs of electronic device, communication packets served to the electronic device, location coordinates of the electronic device, or geotagged photos of the surrounding area can be gathered."
"Unauthorized users" could be detected, the company said, by monitoring "activities such as entering an incorrect password a predetermined number of times in a row, hacking of the electronic device, jailbreaking of the electronic device, unlocking of the electronic device, removing a SIM card from the electronic device, or moving a predetermined distance away from a synced device."