Apple wants to track iPhones – even when they’re turned off

But new patent likely outlines a security feature, rather than a privacy problem

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 24 February 2015 10:04
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There were around 750,000 victims of mobile phone theft in England and Wales last year, according to official figures
There were around 750,000 victims of mobile phone theft in England and Wales last year, according to official figures

Apple could soon be able to track phones even when they’re turned off.

The plan, for which Apple was awarded a patent at the end of January, would allow phones to go into a kind of zombie mode ­– apparently shut off, but actually tracking the phone’s movements.

But while the feature might sound like a way of Apple and other governments tracking your location, it will likely make the phones more secure.

Apple’s Find My iPhone service allows users to track phones if they’re lost or stolen, allowing them to be traced and found. But at the moment, thieves can simply turn the phones off, stopping the tracking feature.

Tracking features and other innovations such as kill switches have cut smartphone theft in half, and also allow phones to be recovered if they are stolen.

The patent shows plans to ask users to enter their security code when powering down the phone. If it isn’t entered correctly, the phone will go into a mode where it looks to have been turned off but is still running location services and connecting to the internet or sending information through text messages.

The phone could also conserve battery by turning back on at regular intervals, transmitting its location before shutting itself down again.

It also lays out other ways of keeping the camera secure. In the shut down state, users could activate the camera, it says – either to scan a QR code to unlock it, or to take photos of the person that has stolen it.

The patent was filed in April 2014 and granted on January 29.

Apple files many patents at all times of the year, many of which don’t come to fruition for some time or are never integrated into phones at all. But the plans often indicate what Apple is working on in its upcoming phones – and extra security feature have been rolled out with most recent major updates.

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