Expect New Security Features for Apple's 'Find My iPhone' Service

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A patent reveals proactive features for the service's next iteration, including the ability to preselect files and folders that must be protected

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Patently Apple dug up a new Apple patent Thursday morning that could portend new -- and better -- features for the next iteration of its popular Find My iPhone service. Patent applications are never a roadmap for future products -- just think of all the unused Apple patents and trademarks the company has filed just to protect its future self or because it thought some errant employee had a good idea that was outside of the box. But we'd like to see some of these changes take effect and, because they improve so greatly on a service that more and more users are finding essential, we bet they will.

A new surveillance mode could use the iPhone microphone and camera to capture ambient sound and video.

In the development stage ever since the first version of Find My iPhone was released in 2009, the features detailed in the new patent are proactive rather than reactive. Before anybody has the chance to steal your iPhone -- and before you can misplace it -- you will be able to preselect certain files and folders, with these new features, that must be protected under any circumstances. You can also, if the ideas presented in this patent become reality, scramble your files instead of wiping them out completely. If you're able to get your iPhone back, retrieval will be a lot easier than it currently is.

Initially developed because mobile phones have an especially high risk of being stolen or lost, Apple's Find My iPhone service is an advancement on long-standing simple encryption ciphers. One of the stand-out features of the service as it currently stands is the ability to remotely set a passcode for the phone after it has been misplaced. After multiple failed attempts to get past the passcode, the phone can activate additional security features.

With the next iteration of Find My iPhone we could see a service that includes an updated surveillance mode in which the iPhone uses its built-in microphone and camera to record ambient sound and video. That information would then be transmitted back to a network resource.

The new iteration could also issue warnings that will make a thief question their decision to snatch your precious mobile device. "To protect the privacy of a user of the mobile device, it could warn the user that a transmission of location information is imminent," Patently Apple explained. "The warning could include a voice warning, a physical warning (e.g., mobile device 500b vibrates), or a display warning, or all of the three combined." The patent includes screenshots that show some examples of what the warning message could look like. "Warning: User St. John Smythe is requesting location information of this device. Location information will be transmitted within 59 seconds," one reads. Busted.

Image: Patently Apple.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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