Apple Patent Goes After 'Little Brother Dataveillance'

Sue Marquette Poremba

It isn’t breaking news anymore, but a story caught my eye before I left town for some traveling.

Apple received a patent that would allow for cloning online identities. The idea, according to Apple, is to make your identity more secure.

I have to admit, when I first saw the headline, being more secure online was not my initial thought. My first reaction was that Apple had found a way to get more customers: It will just begin cloning them.

Seriously though, I thought online cloning would be a tactic more suitable for cyber criminals who would use it to spoof the identities of unsuspecting users in order to steal banking and other information.

What the new technology would actually do is pollute the data stream that generates electronic profiling, creating fake data that is supposed to ultimately trick the bad guys and protect the good data. The description from the patent for the technology was posted on the Naked Security blog:

Techniques to pollute electronic profiling are provided. A cloned identity is created for a principal. Areas of interest are assigned to the cloned identity, where a number of the areas of interest are divergent from true interests of the principal. One or more actions are automatically processed in response to the assigned areas of interest. The actions appear to network eavesdroppers to be associated with the principal and not with the cloned identity.

According to Apple Patently, the idea behind this isn’t to save us from Big Brother (now that’s something different all by itself), but to save us from the "Little Brothers Dataveillance." The Little Brothers are those who conduct surveillance of the Internet to collect specific information on users through electronic profiles. This form of data collection is called "dataveillance," and companies use it to gain insight on their customers. If you use the Internet, chances are your information is hanging out there somewhere. I know if I do a Google search on my name, I get more than links to my byline, but also to sites that have stored my business and sometimes personal contact information, as well as places where I’ve worked and articles I’ve written. It is a bit creepy, seeing that I have no actual connections to these sites.

Apple’s technology is supposed to stop that flow of data collection going to the bad guys, but it would also block companies from doing the same — or so you’d think. And who would get to monitor this technology? Is it something that the average user could set up privately or will it be controlled by corporations? They could still collect your data but prevent the bad guys from accessing it. We don’t have answers yet because, as far as we know, all we have is a patent outlining the technology. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.

I will admit one other thing I thought when I first saw the headlines on this story. The fact that Apple is looking to patent something to improve security is news in itself and a positive step.

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