back to article Future Apple gumble could lock fanbois out of their own devices

Apple has filed a patent for a new location-sensitive security system which could leave fanbois' fumbling to get into their iDevices if they travel to unusual locations. The patent application describes "location-sensitive security levels and setting profiles based on detected location". It's basically describes a system which …

  1. Brad Ackerman
    Mushroom

    I'd be shocked if location-based settings aren't in FISHBOWL. http://www.nsa.gov/ia/programs/mobility_program/ but I don't know how much of that project was published before the patent's filing date.

    Icon because it's the only solution for software patents.

    1. Richard Jones 1
      Flame

      I'm Glad I don't Smoke What They Smoke

      The title says it all, really I am glad that I am not into mind altering substances they way they are. Come to that I am glad that I am not into technocarp from them either. If this is the future bring back the quill pen or a possibly plastic version

      1. Jez-UK

        Re: I'm Glad I don't Smoke What They Smoke

        Well, the idea is you probably don't want some random stranger who finds your phone being able to see everything stored on it (after all, it's really a pocket computer - that happens to also make calls). So you set a password. But when you're sat in the squaller of your own abode, you probably don't want to have to enter the password every time you want to use your phone. So, as the phone has a GPS chip in it, why not see if you are at home before insisting on the password.

        Seems like a "small win". However, Apple's plan is to get you to use your phone for pretty much everything - a kind of universal remote on steroids. You can see that this plan is going to be a total pain if you need to endlessly prove who you are before you can: turn the heat on, pause that movie you're streaming, or turn the lights on. So have the phone run with less security when you (and it) are safely ensconced in your council flat makes that dream easier for us (and hence more profitable for Apple).

        Now is this a "good thing"? I don't know, I guess - given how often you get some pointless company calls you when you are trying to watch some ultimately disappointing film. Perhaps they'd be better off creating "iSlob" that watches the film for you and then tells you: "it's rubbish, you didn't miss much".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Mark my words

      Governments will use the 'kill-switch' facility in cases of an uprising or protest. It's only a matter of time.

    3. Bob Vistakin
      Facepalm

      You're securing it wrong

      There - fixed the customer support message to everyone who falls foul of this.

    4. Wzrd1

      A patent does not equal a product.

      The capability is present, hence, Apple patents it and can then generate income from those who would, on good faith, create a product that did perform as this patent suggests.

  2. VinceH Silver badge
    Big Brother

    "In its patent, the fruity firm wrote: "To provide a reliably pleasant and secure experience for a user operating a mobile device, it can be desirable to modify security settings or other device behavior based on a detected location."

    I can understand how this makes the device a touch more secure, but I'm not sure how that can be described as a 'secure experience' unless, for example, this extra level of security somehow prevents muggers from attacking the user to steal their device - and if that happens, I'm sure it won't be pleasant.

    Cynically, I can't help but think if you can persuade users that this will 'provide a reliably pleasant and more secure experience' and they must therefore allow apps to use the device's ability to get their location, be that via GPS or network stuff, then be sleight of hand they've allowed other apps to gain access to that location stuff.

    How granular are these things on Apple devices? Can you enable an option like that for just one app/feature, or is it all or nothing?

    1. SuccessCase

      Typical dickish misrepresentation by The Register and a shameful "reporting" on what the patent is really about. It's actually a very good idea and something I've been looking forward to for a while. Make it so that you don't have to enter security details when you are at home or at the office. So your phone can be unlocked when it is in your home but needs security unlocking when you are out and about. Also given your phone can now to be used as a key to unlock your computer through use of the new "handover" API announced at this years WWDC, this will be very convenient. When you are next to your computer with your phone, and you are at home, you will be able to set your policy such that the computer will simply be unlocked. When you are out and about and have your phone (with e.g. touch ID), your MacBook in bluetooth range will similarly also unlock. You might set it such that that only occurs at known locations like home or office. Wherever you want the policy to apply really.

      It seems Jasper wants to be a bit of a mewling quim by trying to imply its' some snobby fear of muggers thing. Way to inform your readers Register.

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        "When you are next to your computer with your phone, and you are at home, you will be able to set your policy such that the computer will simply be unlocked. When you are out and about and have your phone (with e.g. touch ID), your MacBook in bluetooth range will similarly also unlock. You might set it such that that only occurs at known locations like home or office. Wherever you want the policy to apply really."

        So if Mr Ne'erdowell (or Mr NSA/GCHQ/Whoever) wants to access what's on your computer, all he needs to do is steal your phone - perhaps sneakily while you're otherwise occupied, perhaps in the gym or whatever, and nip around to your house with it.

        Nice.

        1. jubtastic1

          Mr Ne'erdowell

          Yes, all he has to do is break into your gym locker, steal your phone, scoot to your house, break in and he's riffling through your stuff faster than you can say, 'fuck me, that seems a bit of a long winded and redundant way to gain access to a computer"

          1. VinceH Silver badge

            Re: Mr Ne'erdowell

            "Yes, all he has to do is [...]"

            Well, excuse me for just giving a single hypothetical example and not devoting the rest of my life to considering every possible scenario, ever, to find the one plausible enough for you.

      2. John H Woods

        "It's actually a very good idea and something I've been looking forward to for a while."

        No need to look forward to it - I've been using Tasker on Android to ensure that my screen lock is disabled whenever my phone can see my local wifi. I have no problem with the 'idea' at all, but patenting it is a problem, it isn't nearly novel or non-obvious enough.

        1. DaddyHoggy

          Tasker you say? Well, that's exactly the functionality I want - to not have to unlock my phone - but specifically only while it's connected to my home wifi.

          <Goes off to to investigate>

      3. DaddyHoggy

        So, if somebody breaks into your house, steals your iDevice and your Apple Mac, because they're in close proximity the iDevice will remain unlocked?

        If you move house - will you have to start again about teaching the device's security that this is a safe area and it doesn't need to be locked?

        Genuine questions because while context sensitive security sounds like a good idea if badly implemented it will be very annoying.

        (And wasn't it revealed recently that Apple's record on security isn't that great - I'm thinking about the password system for connecting to WiFi hotspots was shown to be very flawed)

        [I would quite like it if I didn't have to password unlock my S3 mini at home - i.e. it was connected to my home wifi, but did have to unlock it everywhere else - so I'm all for the concept]

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      re: modify security settings or other device behavior based on a detected location

      If this works, we can expect Apple to sell this as a feature based on another Apple patent. As it would enable Apple to sell concert organisers a service to disable/degrade the camera etc. of attendee's and so avoid the issues of people taking pictures...

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: re: modify security settings or other device behavior based on a detected location

        Why would Apple want to include a feature that disabled iPhone owners from taking pictures at a concert? Even assuming the concert organizers would be willing to pay for it, that sum would be a fraction of what Apple would lose in sales from people who find out that they're blocked from taking pictures at the concert while their Samsung owning friends aren't, and decide their next phone will be a Samsung.

        Honestly, some people go to such lengths to hate on Apple will moronic schemes that would never work in the real world. It is almost as if they're just wishing Apple will do something that dumb so their hopes that Apple crumbles will become real. Nevermind that Google is far from doing no evil, and giving them an effective monopoly on the cellphone market is not something we want, considering how they're treating their effective monopoly with Youtube lately.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: re: modify security settings or other device behavior based on a detected location

          >Why would Apple want to include a feature that disabled iPhone owners from taking pictures at a concert?

          Apple certainly has made at least one previous patent application in this area, namely: US Patent Application No. 20110128384, that covers a method of disabling video capture in a cell phone or similar device; namely the Apple iPhone. The patented innovation would make it impossible to capture video or pictures at live events where cameras and video recorders are prohibited, such as at live entertainment venues.

          So whilst Apple may have technology patents, that some parties may find interesting, they wouldn't be particularly interesting to the general public and so whether Apple would ever implement these features is an open question.

    3. Jez-UK

      Possibly just gives a "we trust this place" back to the app. The app probably has to ask for GPS coordinates if it needs them - as that's a different "do you want to share your location with <app name>?" type situation.

      Or (more likely) we're talking about unlocking the device (so apps have no knowledge of location security status).

  3. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

    stupidity upon stupidity

    I may be wrong but the way I understand it is "a way to render the device inoperable if it gets to unusual places". So... turn a mobe into a landline then? Smart move!

    The "usual" places for me (as, I suspect, for most people) would be home and workplace. I do have landlines in both, I don't need no mobe there. I may, however, take my bike and go for a few-hendred-km tour with friends. During that tour I may have to call home (that's the very reason why the handbrake plagued me with a phone to begin with) to reassure people that I wasn't run over by a lorry or that I did not hug a tree at humpteen hundred km/h. By definition the "tour" would lead me to "unusual places" -at rather high speeds, too-, that's the whole point of it.

    So... in addition to being a software patent (Boo hiss; and not exactly anything innovative or non-obvious, either), it is a particularly dumb one. No? It's the phone equivalent of that dumb Yahoo! thing that won't allow me to log on from abroad; because obviously a webmail platform is not intended for "roaming" users... or is it?

    1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Re: stupidity upon stupidity

      Indeed. It would be absolutely useless for me, I'm a Technical Adviser to an Outsourcing Company's Sales / Contract initiation team, so I spend half my time at home and the other half in various cities around the world where one week I might be in Berlin, next I'd be in Seoul, then off to Sao Paulo, Maybe San Francisco after that.

      Even if I went to the same places constantly, it'd still be useless as I carry two phones: a work hone and a personal one, they are so thin and light nowadays that I barely notice I already carry Micro-USB cables for my external hard disks, battery packs, etc.

      Now if might be useful if the location was calculated as distance from my pocket...

      1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        Re distance from your pocket

        I'm pretty sure Apple's already got a patent on some rfid-like implant device that can communicate with you devices and dog and would be perfectly capable of tracking your every move acting on distance from your pocket or implant respectively.

        1. Ivan Headache

          Re: Re distance from your pocket

          How's about it knowing that it has wandered away from your iWatch and therefore might have been 'lifted'?

    2. jai

      Re: stupidity upon stupidity

      I may be wrong

      yes, i think you are. the way i understood the patent was that (if enabled) the phone wouldn't require you to unlock the screen via pin or fingerprint sensor if it knows that you are at home. in your home, for most people, it's unlikely that you're phone has been stolen, so the security measures are a pain in the neck.

      also, i would expect this feature, if it ever appears, is a user option. so if you don't trust the people you live with, you don't have to enable it.

  4. Arachnoid

    Hmmmmm

    I thought the latest iDevice had fingerprint recognition so why would you need another lock out service running?

    1. Jez-UK

      Re: Hmmmmm

      Assuming this comes to market (BIG ASSUMPTION) you might use it for devices that don't include that technology (older devices or anything other than "5s" in the current lineup).

      I see this as an enabler for sales of related "home automation" items (see other post). So it is in Apple's interest to bring this to users of older devices.

  5. Whiskers

    Prior Art?

    There is at least one Android app ("Llama", in Google Play app store) which claims to do this already.

    1. MD Rackham

      Re: Prior Art?

      Was the app available prior to Apple's patent filing date?

      If not, it may not be in the Google Play store for long.

      1. Brangdon

        Re: Prior Art?

        There's a brief review for "Unlock with WiFi" here: http://lifehacker.com/5829514/unlock-with-wi-fi-saves-you-from-tedious-phone-passwords-when-youre-at-home. The review is dated 2011. Apple's application date is 2012. Apple were later.

    2. Brangdon

      Re: Prior Art?

      "Unlock with WiFi" is the one I use. It sets the password to blank when it can see my home wireless network.

    3. Fogcat

      Re: Prior Art?

      This is true, my phone does this already via Locale (the other main app is Tasker).

      My phone goes to vibrate only at work, stays with the screen on when plugging in and playing music in the car and switches off the screen lock when I'm connected to my home wifi.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    IANAF

    (I Am Not A Fanboi) - in fact I loathe (Cr)Apple with a ferocity that defies description. However, I am a fan of context altering behaviour (aka "experience") and I think this looks useful. And good.

    Anon because my GF is a Fangurl and I am too proud to admit that Cupertino may have got something right :)

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Re: IANAF

      I share your attitude towards Apple. But I can see that such a behaviour can actually be rather welcome to the fanboi luser normal user.

      Mind you, I'd never use such a function. Then again, like some other commentards who obviously loath such a Big Brother idea, I'm hardly within the target group of Apple or other typical smart device providers.

  7. Eddy Ito Silver badge
    Go

    Other settings could potentially be changed, so that perhaps "at home, a user might want the lock-screen image to be a personal photo, but while at work, the user might want a professional photo" - presumably a fully clothed one.

    Got it, naked selfies at home only as work pics have to be taken by a fully clothed professional photographer. Do you suppose the photographers that work for the likes of Playboy are clothed during the shoot?

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      Actually, Playboy photographers are fully clothed during a shoot, just like the rest of the crew. But more to the point, since I informally applied for El Reg's sub editor job earlier on, I probably should change my workplace lockscreen to some hot nudie while the home one remains the missus-friendly landscape pic. Then again, my plan was to work 100% from home since I'm rather unkeen of commuting 700 miles to London every day.

  8. Herby Silver badge

    Make NSFW actually work.

    When you get into the "work" zone, it automatically makes sure that NSFW is enforced.

    Then again, there might be a NSFH(ome), which is different from NSFM(istress). This could get interesting when filtering mails as well as pictures.

    All to insure domestic tranquility.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another invalid patent on abstract ideas.

    Claim 1, simply stated, amounts to "Somehow detect the location and in response, somehow do something to something that has something to do with security". Fuck Apple and their constant fraudulent applications for patents on non-patentable subject matter.

    1. Jez-UK

      Re: Another invalid patent on abstract ideas.

      Or the patent is "defensive". Essentially, Apple think they might want to do this - so they patent the idea, so if some product-less yahoo patents the idea they can't sue Apple for damages.

      You see this is how the (broken) patent system works now. If you have an idea, that you make into a product you'd better have patented it.

      1. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: Another invalid patent on abstract ideas.

        > Or the patent is "defensive". Essentially, Apple think they might want to do this - so they patent the idea, so if some product-less yahoo patents the idea they can't sue Apple for damages.

        Surely if they tried, Apple would just point to their product and the date and say... "Prior Art."

        I'm not sure that using GPS-awareness is particularly innovative. But then, we have "slide to unlock..."

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: Or the patent is "defensive"

        Essentially, Apple think they might want to do this - so they patent the idea

        Holy cow, why are you posting comments about patents when you don't know the first thing about them? IDEAS ARE NOT PATENTABLE. Not even if you just want it for "defensive" purposes.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Localised pricing to arrive too I assume

    Quite obviously it will allow Apple to cut prices where no one wants their product.

    How about an Apple Local brand?

  11. Mitoo Bobsworth
    Coat

    Thinking out loud.

    Another possible tracking effort in the works? Didn't they get a grumpy response over this sort of location gubbins a while ago?

    (My tinfoil hat's in here somewhere...)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really?

    I didn't realise Apple were still interested in anything? You certainly wouldn't think so looking at all the tired years old items on their website

    1. ratfox Silver badge
      Trollface

      Just wait!

      Coming soon: exciting new developments in wearable computing!

  13. John Tserkezis

    A message you may see when wandering into a high-risk area.

    "The security system built into your iPhone has prevented you from using your phone due to information gained via your locational sensors".

    "You are currently positioned inside the company toilet block, and this region has been deemed risky".

    "Please move away from this high-risk area before trying again".

    "We recommend you pull up your pants first".

  14. adfh
    Thumb Down

    How the hell is this patentable?

    This is geofencing.. there's a lot of prior art on geofencing I'm pretty sure..

    Hell, one of the Android security apps I have has the means to implement it.

    How is this unique?

  15. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    I mostly noticed the part that says

    "The system would sense a device's proximity to other devices, networks or locations, before deciding the level of security that is required."

    For the last, I don't know, ~15 years my mobile phones stopped locking the screen when "sensing proximity" to the car's BT hands-free kit. In a sense, it is a location determination: I am in my car, so I don't want to punch in my password and I am reasonably safe. If I forget the phone in the car but the engine is switched off the screen will be locked - smart, eh?

    [Aside: my current "smart" phone can't do it out of the box, but there is an "innovative" app for that.]

    Will all that start infringing on Apple's IP once they are granted the patent?

  16. Britt
    Meh

    So, location based behaviour? Am I imagining my Xperia Z2 detecting my location and setting various apps appropriately? I get to work and it turns the wifi on and sets itself to silent. I leave to go home and it sets itself to ring normally, turns wifi off to save battery and tells me my journey time based on my location. The security is an extension to this, not an entirely new feature..

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I rest my case...

    http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/containing/2232866

  18. John70

    My old Garmin Sat Nav uses GPS location whether to unlock the device automatically at home or asks me to enter a PIN number to unlock it.

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