If you’re a petty thief, an iPhone must look like a mobile Mona Lisa. Their sleek design, variety of features, portability, coveted ownership, and lofty price make for an appealing and readily available target. But scum of the earth pay heed: Apple filed for a patent yesterday (August 19th) to undermine iPhone theft by remote disabling of the stolen devices and sending you to the clink for your tomfoolery.

The patent, titled "Systems and Methods for Identifying Unauthorized Users of an Electronic Device”, provides lost or stolen iPhone owners with peace of mind and employs a variety of methods to determine the legitimacy of the user on the device and information regarding its whereabouts.

Unauthorized users will be detected through a plethora of capabilities: voice recordings, keylogs, geotagged photographs of the surroundings, screenshots of the device, GPS coordinates, an “accelerometer operable to record a vibration profile of the electronic device” to identify the mode in which the thief is traveling, detailed summaries of the phone's use (including cell phone numbers, sent texts, etc.), and will even include a heartbeat sensor.

However, the most applicable means of identifying the thief will be the integrated use of the iPhone camera into the security measures. A password prompt will be sent to the device once it has been deemed unauthorized, which after a certain number of failed attempts, snaps a flashless, noiseless photo of the unassuming perpetrator. New user controls will also give owners the ability to setup their iPhones so that photos can be taken every time it is turned on, unlocked, or used.

The functionality of the user controls also allows for notifications to be assigned and sent to alert your contacts of the phone's compromise via numbers, e-mail addresses, screen names, and your social networking accounts. You can also set it to send alerts to the police, who can then in turn, use the collected data to track down the iBandit, or to your mobile provider, who can remotely restrict or shutdown the device. In the case of the latter, once an unauthorized user is detected via the alerts you have sent, any sensitive data will be transferred to a remote Apple server, and access to contact books, Internet browsers, calendars, e-mail, and similar applications will be immediately restricted.

In regards to the sensitive data:“Access to sensitive information such as credit card information, social security numbers, banking information, home addresses, or any other delicate information can be prohibited. In some embodiments, the sensitive information can be erased from the electronic device. For example, the sensitive information can be erased directly after an unauthorized user is detected. However, as this may unfavorably erase information in response to a false detection (e.g., the electronic device malfunctions by incorrectly identifying the owner as an unauthorized user) and can be a nuisance to the owner, in some embodiments the information can be erased after a predetermined period of time (e.g., 48 hours) has passed. For example, if an unauthorized user has been detected, and the owner has not reclaimed possession of the electronic device within the predetermined period of time, the sensitive information can then be erased. In some embodiments, the sensitive information can be erased from the electronic device after being backed-up on a remote server. In this scenario, until a user is properly identified as an authorized user of the electronic device, access to the sensitive information on the remote server can be denied."

While this is a noble idea to deter iTheft, are its intentions as sincere at it is leading us to believe? With Steve Jobs presumably still steaming from the recent ruling legalizing jailbreaking of the iOS , what do you think?

"An unauthorized user can be detected by, for example, the output of an appropriate sensor or by identifying particular activities (e.g., by receiving a predetermined number of incorrect passwords, noting hacking, jailbreaking, unlocking, or removal of a SIM card, or moving a certain distance away from a synced device). Generally, when an unauthorized user is detected, various types of information can be gathered and a responsible party (e.g., the owner, the police, or the proper authorities) can be notified. Various ways of gathering information and notifying a responsible party will be described in more detail in the descriptions and figures to follow."

Note the bold and how it's cleverly inserted in the middle of the clause and suddenly, the patent's intentions are made that much clearer. Is Apple sincerely trying to create a service to protect its users, or to protect its iOS from them? Is this just all a big charade, with Steve Jobs behind the curtains of Oz waiting to pop out and laugh in our faces as he wipes his face with $100 bills after eating another five-course dinner?

More on the inclusion of jailbreaking into the patent:"An activity that can detect an unauthorized user can be any action that may indicate the electronic device is being tampered with by being, for example, hacked, jailbroken, or unlocked. For example, a sudden increase in memory usage of the electronic device can indicate that a hacking program is being run and that an unauthorized user may be using the electronic device. “Jailbreaking” of an electronic device can generally refer to tampering with the device to allow a user to gain access to digital resources that are normally hidden and protected from users. “Unlocking” of a cellular phone can generally refer to removing a restriction that “locks” a cellular phone so it may only be used in specific countries or with specific network providers. Thus, in some embodiments, an unauthorized user can be detected if it is determined that the electronic device is being jailbroken or unlocked."

What exactly Apple is intending with the application for this patent seems to fall somewhere between the thin line of a genuine concern for owner protection and complete and utter spite of the recent jailbreaking ruling. Just how iPhone users with jailbroken phones will be able to continue using them after the promises of this patent are implemented is sure to leave many Apple loyalists choking on the seeds.

> However, the most applicable means of identifying the thief will be the integrated use of the iPhone camera into the security measures. A password prompt will be sent to the device once it has been deemed unauthorized, which after a certain number of failed attempts, snaps a flashless, noiseless photo of the unassuming perpetrator.

So basically Apple is saying that they currently have the technology, and want to file a patent, to take and transmit photos of me using my phone whenever they want, entirely unbenounced to me? What if I run out of the shower to take an important call, and I have no idea that Apple is secretely taking pictures of me?? How do I know that Apple hasn't been doing this already, and is just now patenting their technology after the fact?

... And yes, I believe that Apple thinking they have a right to do this to any jailbroken phone is a direct jab at the recent jailbreaking is now legal ruling.

This just means that Apple could end up using their devices as some sort of surveillance device and raises a number of privacy issues, one of them being pointed by cscgal above. To be able to distinguish between users they will have to store a lot of information about the real owner of the phone and how they use the phone on a regular basis. Overall it sounds very fishy and definitely has some hidden motives.