Apple Wants to Protect Your Identity ... by Cloning You

The company just acquired a patent aimed at fighting the Internet's "Little Brothers."

[optional image description]

It's common to worry about Big Brother. But what about ... Big Brother's brothers?

As one company put it,

The electronic age has given rise to what is now known as thousands of "Little Brothers," who perform Internet surveillance by collecting information to form electronic profiles about a user not through human eyes or through the lens of a camera but through data collection. This form of Internet surveillance via data collection is often referred to as "dataveillance." In a sense, thousands of "Little Brothers" or automated programs can monitor virtually every action of users over the Internet.

That colorful analysis comes not from an EFF essay or a New York Times op-ed, but from a patent -- one just assigned to Apple. One of the properties Apple won in a February acquisition of patents from Novell, the technology allows the company to fight would-be Little Brothers by cloning users' digital identities. The system -- in more traditional Patent-ese, a "non-transitory computer-readable implemented method to process on a device" -- works in three ways. First, it creates a fake identity (and, actually, many fake identities) for the user. Second, it takes elements of users' real identities -- interests and the like, based on browser history and cookies -- and merges those with elements that don't reflect the identity of the user, creating a close-but-not-quote shadow identity. Third, it creates actual network activity based on those false interest areas, spreading them across the network.

So: digital pollution, with a purpose. Apple is taking advantage -- or, well, could take advantage -- of the practically limitless storage space offered by the Internet to fool the people who try to make that Internet smaller. The overall point, the patent text notes, is to "make any data collection about a principal less valuable and less reliable."

Here's the illustration:


So should you expect there to be some "Toddlers in Tiaras"-watching/Justin Bieber-loving/puppy-hating versions of yourself lurking out there in the cloud, mimicking and thereby protecting you? Not just yet. Apple now has the patent for the cloning technology; what they'll do with it remains to be seen. The company could sit on it, as it does on so many other pieces of its intellectual property; on the other hand, it could also build it out as a standard privacy protection feature in iCloud and other Apple products, offering one step forward in the cat-and-mouse game of identity protection. Either way, Apple's latest IP acquisition offers yet one more paradox of the sometimes-weird world of technology: Protecting our identities, it says, may be as simple as replicating them.

Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In