While I generally try to maintain a writing moratorium on all
things Apple or Steve Jobs – it’s both a personal bias/contempt thing and a
desire not to be flamed to a crisp – I will make the occasional exception for things
that grossly offend my personal values, of which Apple appears to have done this
The value in question is rather simple: what’s mine is mine. Not yours, Apple – it’s mine. If I
pay for something, and that transaction does not explicitly specify a condition
like “rental” or “lease”, then I will automatically assume an ownership stance
and I expect the goods that I purchase to behave as such – which means “do what
I tell you do,” in the old-school-parenting spank-your-kids sense of the
phrase. Do it without questioning me, bugging me, or otherwise interfering with
what I want in the end result.
This leads me to rumors floating around the ‘net, about a
hidden feature in the iPhone OS that gives Apple a silent,
remote killswitch for any application running on users’ iPhones. These
rumors come from Jonathan Zdziarski, a forensic examiner and author of the
books iPhone Open
Application Development and the upcoming iPhone Frensics Manual, who
found that iPhones running the version 2.0 of the phone’s OS will periodically check a special
URL for a list of applications to disable:
suggests that the iPhone calls home once in a while to find out what
applications it should turn off. At the moment, no apps have been blacklisted,
but by all appearances, this has been added to disable applications that the
user has already downloaded and paid for, if Apple so chooses to shut them
discovered this doing a forensic examination of an iPhone 3G. It appears to be
tucked away in a configuration file deep inside CoreLocation.”
Word on the street seems to indicate the feature was designed
for combating the spread of malware, but since Apple hasn't used it yet, nobody knows for sure. Many fear that the feature could be used in
conjunction with Apple’s propensity for silently
removing applications from its App Store, disabling snuffed programs even
after they would ordinarily be out of the company’s control.
This takes me back to my original principle: what’s mine is mine. If I had an iPhone (which I don’t,
thanks to AT&T’s apparent
contempt for current customers), I would expect that the things I put on it
remain there, fully functional. If an app stops working, it should be my fault!
There’s an even bigger fear, however: With the knowledge out
there that Apple has the capability of permanently disabling already-downloaded
apps, a court could theoretically compel Apple to invoke the feature in a
lawsuit – such as the one surrounding an application called, simply, Baseball.
Major League Baseball claims the app’s use of official logos infringes its
trademarks, and is suing to force its author to either remove the offending
graphics, or presumably remove the app entirely. (Never mind the fact that the
MLB has a program of its own available for $5, called MLB.com
While the program’s author, self-employed hobbyist and Mac
programmer Dave Knopper, says he will comply with the court’s order and make
the necessary adjustments, let’s play devil’s advocate here: what if he
refused, and either fought the case and lost, or simply ignored the order? What
if he was outside U.S. jurisdiction or otherwise unable to appear? The MLB
would, presumably, sue to have the app removed and, had it the knowledge, might move to blacklist it as well.
Or, let’s say AT&T doesn’t like iPhone-tethering app NetShare,
and asks Apple to pull it off the store and blacklist its execution. Even if
Apple or AT&T issued refunds to NetShare’s paying customers, those users
are still out the tethering capability.
What about license agreement violations? Homebrew apps?
Do we really want Apple to have this capability? Apple does not
know best, and never can know what’s best, simply because it carries a heavy
financial stake in the continued business and operation of its Mac platform,
and the health of its partnerships. One look at the music industry tells us
that company objectives aren’t always in-line with customer freedom – another principle
that I consider absolutely paramount –
and I have a hard time believing that Apple, or any of its legal adversaries,
would never try to wield this kind of power in the future.
Ordinarily I would have segued into a rant against cloud
computing and Big Brother-ish tactics, but this post is neither the appropriate
time nor place – plus, it's long enough. So let’s just keep it at this:
if Apple’s tactics bother you at all then let your voice be heard before we
tread much further down that path.
Will this stop me from buying an iPhone? Probably not. I am
actually a pretty satisfied Apple customer, however when I buy the company’s
products I choose not to buy into its attached ecosystem. When I finally do get
an iPhone, I fully intend to jailbreak the thing and load on it whatever I damn
well please. Hopefully, by then, someone will have found a way to cripple this “feature”.
quote: Apple raised hackles in computer-privacy and security circles when an independent engineer discovered code inside the iPhone that suggested iPhones routinely check an Apple Web site that could, in theory trigger the removal of the undesirable software from the devices.Mr. Jobs confirmed such a capability exists, but argued that Apple needs it in case it inadvertently allows a malicious program -- one that stole users' personal data, for example -- to be distributed to iPhones through the App Store. "Hopefully we never have to pull that lever, but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull," he says.