Comment: iPhone Kill Switch – Will It Happen?

By Mike Wheeler

  • Is Apple putting in a kill switch for its iPhone?
  • Is a kill switch necessary?
  • Do Apple have the moral right to do so?

A recent article by a publication based in the US hinted that Apple is patenting a device that will allow it to “Identify(ing) Unauthorized Users of an Electronic Device," on its iPhone products, which covers security measures to protect the phone in case it is stolen or lost. The article surmised that amongst all the hullabaloo of what was being said in the application for the patent, that at the end of the day that it would allow Apple to implement a kill switch on its iPhone.

Now, at the outset, this seems like a good idea. Someone steals your phone, or you leave it on the train/bus, and suddenly a third party might not only have a free smartphone, they could also be privy to personal information – anything from friends’ phone numbers, through to photographs and an array of applications.

With most tech journos being born cynics, the writer thought there were more nefarious reasons for Apple applying for the patent – namely utilising the kill switch if a phone has been jailbroken. What does this mean? Apple is very protective about what applications it will allow on its iPhone. There have been instances over the past 12-18 months where they have allowed an app to be added to its app store, only for it to be taken down – for whatever reason – days or weeks later. Sometimes they will ask for the app to be modified, or they will put a blanket ban on it. This usually means that the app is no longer available.

However, some geeks have the know-how, and time, to ‘jailbreak’ the phone so those applications can be added. The patent does say that "hacking, jailbreaking, unlocking, or removal of a SIM card," come under unauthorised users. There is no indication whether this patent is going to be in-built or added as an app, but I can see why Apple would be interested in such an application.

Because jailbreaking is also carried out by people do steal phones. There is a fine line between interfering with the rights of the user, who should be able to do what they like with their iPhone, and Apple putting a device in place that would render a stolen or misplaced unit useless. Also, people have to be aware that the warranty on an iPhone is null and void if a person jailbreaks the unit.

On the other side of the coin, Apple could try and produce an application whereby you can input the mobile phone’s unique IMEI number, which most people who steal a phone would not know, as an easy and proven way of stopping the use of a phone accessing a network.

The irony of Apple deliberately putting a built-in kill switch on the iPhone to have total control of the unit is apparent, when you consider that one of the most successful ads ever run on television was the launch of the Macintosh during the 1984 Superbowl and was based on George Orwell’s novel 1984 about people being controlled by Big Brother.

What do you think? Is Apple that ultimate tech dictator, or are they only looking out for their customers? Tell us what you think.