In a surprising move, Apple has successfully patented a technology that aims to protect users from data collection by governments, businesses, and cybercriminals.
The patent, released Tuesday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and uncovered by Patently Apple, outlines a system that clones users identities, then inserts fake details into those clones to create a jumbled mess of information in an attempt to throw off data collectors — a privacy protection process that Apple describes as “polluting electronic profiling.”
“A cloned identity is created for a principal [i.e. a user],” reads the patent. “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.”
In short, this is an entirely different tactic for combating online privacy invasion. Rather than try to hide your identity — which is becoming increasingly difficult, as the Web seeps deeper and deeper into our lives — Apple’s idea is to simply hide behind a wall of noise.
“Data collection is not prevented; rather, it is encouraged for the cloned identity and intentionally populated with divergent information that pollutes legitimate information gathered about the principal,” reads the patent.
Sounds good — a little too good.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Apple will ever release a product that includes this profile pollution technology, but it is certainly encouraging (and not the least bit curious) to see the Cupertino electronics giant diving into these waters.
We must also note that this type of technology seems quite an odd endeavor for Apple. Not entirely, mind you — the company is notorious for protecting its own privacy, after all — but it does appear to come out of nowhere. In fact, such a technology feels out of place coming from any large corporation. As Apple itself notes in the patent: “Individuals, particularly American citizens, have always been suspect of the motivations and actions of their government and ‘Big Business.'”
That we have. And I must admit, the sheer unusualness of this patent leaves me equally suspect and uneasy — it’s just too good to be true.
The details of the patent are vast and convoluted, like something out of science fiction. But if you’re interested, I highly recommened checking out the patent itself, as well as Patently Apple’s thorough walk-through of it.
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