Apple Tries to Patent Ways to Get Back At You for Jailbreaking Your Phone

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Last month, when the government Copyright Office OK'd jailbreaking your smartphone -- a process that allows you to circumvent a company's "app store" -- the news resounded in a minor key. Jailbreaking was technically legal, but there were no protections for users who chose to do it. Now, the blog Mashable brings via The Register that Apple has filed a patent for technolog that could theoretically be used to disable your jailbroken phone.

Most of the patent covers ways of dealing with the theft of a phone, but broadly, it addresses "hacking, jailbreaking, unlocking, or removal of a SIM card."
 
Mashable explains how Apple could use the technology:

[T]he patent also covers methods for identifying devices that have been hacked, jailbroken, unlocked or had their SIM cards removed, such as monitoring sudden increases in memory usage that could "indicate that a hacking program is being run and that an unauthorized user may be using the electronic device." Theoretically, Apple could then wipe personal data from these devices and then alert AT&T to "shutdown any telephone service to the electronic device, shutdown the electronic device itself, or otherwise suitably extract the functions of the electronic device."

In other words, the system described in the patent allow Apple to effectively kill jailbroken devices under the guise of protecting customers from theft, since it may not be able to determine whether a device has been stolen or if it is being willingly jailbroken by users.

Obviously, Apple's not going to deploy such a drastic measure wily-nilly, but it's certainly worth keeping in mind that they might have such abilities stashed away in Cupertino.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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