Apple goes too far in stalking jailbroken devices

September 16, 2010 — by Evaline Ju

With a quick stroke of the slider on his iPhone, a student can enter a world of free applications and unrestrained choices of phone carriers. Little does he know, however, that his iPhone could be recording his voice and his heartbeat or taking secret photos of him if Apple gets its ways in the next few months.

Jailbreaking is the process that allows iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad users to run software not authorized by Apple on their devices. Since the invention of these products, the legality of the practice has been in question.

On July 26 the issue was resolved. The U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress declared against Apple that jailbreaking did not violate the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which protects copyrights.

However, Apple would not put the matter to rest. A patent for “systems and methods for identifying unauthorized users of an electronic device” went before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in late August.

With the system, Apple can basically stalk devices’ users. If it senses any “suspicious behavior,” such as jailbreaking, hacking, or even moving away from the synced device, it can lock or shut down the iTouch, iPhone or iPad.

The very idea of taking undetectable photos or monitoring the heartbeat of a user sounds like a part of a science fiction novel, much like Big Brother in George Orwell’s “1984.” Not only does it interfere with personal privacy, it is “downright creepy and invasive,” as Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a U.S. civil liberties group says.

Jailbreaking, in a way, has broken Apple’s monopoly over items like backgrounds, themes and games. The court’s approval of jailbreaking has been a step forward for users of Apple devices. Users are no longer constrained to the same things but can use what others have come up with online for little to no cost.

Though the company may be motivated to recover its possible financial losses caused by the court’s ruling, Apple’s new patent idea has simply gone over the top. The application for the patent has not yet been approved, but it has stirred controversy over Apple’s legal authority to try to slip past the court’s approval of jailbreaking. Instead of seeking to improve its products or lower their costs, the company insists on stalking customers who have found cheaper and a wider range of alternatives.

Now that Apple is powerless to stop jailbreaking by any moral or legal means at this point, users can freely hack their devices. In this world of constant technological advancement, Apple does not have to play the sore loser. If only it didn’t choose to.