THE BLOG
09/20/2010 04:37 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Apple of Big Brother's Eye (Or, They Now Have a Camera in My Bedroom)

"Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations." - Apple CEO Steve Jobs as quoted in the book, The Journey is the Reward.

Steve, you made a mistake... a big one! Now admit it and get on with some other brilliant, paradigm -shifting innovations for which the world has come to know and idolize you.

For those of you who don't spend your time combing US Patent Office filings, Apple recently filed a patent for "Systems and Methods for Identifying Unauthorized Users of an Electronic Device." (" http://bit.ly/bF21qP) That may sound mind-numbingly dull but what it means is that Apple wants to patent a method of determining who is using one of their products. The patent explains how Apple would seize control of a product (like, perhaps one of the 50 million iPhones out there, for instance) and use it to take a picture of the current user of the phone, or record their voice, or measure their heartbeat. Apple says it would only use this information to ensure that the person using the product is the correct user, and that the product had not been tampered with or stolen.

Let's recap--Apple wants to take a picture of you without you knowing about it and without it making a sound on the phone wherever the phone may be. Apple wants to record your voice when you are not even talking on the phone. Pardon me while I say, HOLY #@!^@

Let's give Apple the benefit of the doubt that this technology will not be used to to spy on us and collect incredibly valuable marketing information. Let's believe that Apple plans to only use this technology for its stated purpose, to ensure that their products are being used properly. Even that would be insulting and a horrible invasion of privacy. When I buy a product, it is mine to do with as I please. If I want to mess with the insides of my TV, Sony doesn't deactivate the TV. If I want to tinker with my car, GM doesn't take the car away from me.

Apple's business objective in hatching this Orwellian innovation is to prevent people from "jailbreaking" iPhones. Jailbreaking is a process of unlocking the operating system of an iPhone, allowing users to download apps that have not been approved by Apple (and are not paying exorbitant fees to Apple). It is estimated that perhaps 10% of all iPhones have been jailbroken. So, Apple wants to spy on those 5 million people and, perhaps, disable their phones permanently.

And that is about the nicest possible use for this technology. Apple's patent has some truly terrifying implications. What if someone at Apple decided to use this technology for other purposes?

Take the case of David Barksdale, a 27-year-old engineer who was working for one of Google's elite technical groups when he decided to use his position to start spying on 4 teenagers. He listened in on their phone conversations over Google Voice. He accessed transcripts of their private chats. He looked up their contact lists and read their emails sent through Gmail. In one case he threatened a 15-year-old boy to coerce him into divulging the name of the boy's girlfriend.

Google says it has fired Barksdale and will look into enhancing its security controls regarding employees of the company. However, it says it is necessary for some employees to have access to your most private data for Google's systems to operate properly.

This episode reflects more than the misdeeds of a single rogue employee dabbling in cyber-stalking. Even if corporations do not have nefarious motives when they create invasive technology to spy on us, their employees can use that technology to gain access to our most intimate secrets. And once an innovative technology gets patented, it is simply a matter of time before the technology gets licensed to others and competitors begin development efforts of their own.

And that is why Apple's plan to monitor our heartbeats, track our voices, and take pictures of us is so disturbing. These data points being collected covertly aren't just credit cards or pin numbers - but pieces of me. Is there anything more sacred than that?


Jeffrey Evans is the CEO of TigerText, a text messaging service that offers and promotes increased privacy standards in communication.