Apple envisions tech to photograph, record iPhone thieves

Sure, if someone steals your iPhone, you might be able to remotely wipe it in order to protect sensitive data. But what about catching the thief? An Apple patent application, filed earlier this year but posted online Thursday, describes sophisticated ways to do just that.

Apple proposes a mechanism that would record the voice of the current user of the phone, take photographs of the user, geotag the photograph and activate the accelerometer to “determine a current mode of transportation of the electronic device.”

It could also take a variety of photos, analyzing them in an attempt to find distinguishing landmarks in order to determine the location of the phone.

The phone would gather some of this information surreptitiously. “In some embodiments, the photograph can be taken 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 patent reads.

The technology could alert the authorized user, via text message, instant message, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) or other methods, that someone is using the phone.

The technology could then transmit sensitive data from the phone to remote storage and then erase the data from the phone. The current remote wipe feature doesn’t first back up the data.

It could also lock down certain features of the phone, making them unusable.

The mechanism would use other sophisticated tools to determine who has the phone. For instance, it could use a heartbeat sensor to determine if the current user is the authorized user of the phone. It could also use other well-known techniques like only allowing a certain number of attempts at entering a correct password.

While the proposed system could appeal to businesses concerned about securing data that workers access on their iPhones, it could also potentially be used by Apple to prevent so-called jailbreaking, which lets users load unauthorized software onto the phone. The patent application says that ways the technology would determine if an unauthorized user had the phone include identifying activities such as hacking, jailbreaking, unlocking, removing the SIM card and moving a predetermined distance from a synced device.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy’s e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com.

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