Jobs Confirms iPhone 'Kill Switch'

Last week, a developer discovered that the iPhone has the capability to quietly connect to Apple’s servers to check an application blacklist, and then disable any installed apps that are on the list. The story was quickly defused by blogs, but today the Wall Street Journal says Steve Jobs has confirmed that there really is an application “kill switch.”

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.

What do you think—are you okay with Apple being able to directly control what apps are on your iPhone?

“IPhone Software Sales Take Off: Apple’s Jobs” [The Wall Street Journal via MacWorld]

Comments

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  1. Nick1693 says:

    I don’t have an iPhone. But, nonetheless I don’t want an app to steal my personal info.

  2. TheSpatulaOfLove says:

    I am not okay with this whatsoever. I’m dealing with the fact that they didn’t give me the freedom to use opensource applications…for now. I’m also dealing with the fact that they cut out the possibility for me to tether…for now… But this growing big brother crap Jobs is pulling is making me want to jailbreak this thing once and for all and stick it to Apple for playing games with me.

    I count the days before the jailbreakers figure out how to stop the thing from phoning home…

  3. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Totally unacceptable, and the grudging respect I gave Apple for having a really decent customer service rep or two is shot to $#!+ now. Forget ever doing business with those creeps.

  4. hardtoremember says:

    It could be good and it could be bad but being able to remotely kill a malicious app seems like it’s better than bad.

  5. I, too, don’t want an app to steal my personal info. But I wouldn’t want this sort of capability on my OS X or Windows XP computers, or my Symbian cell phone. There are other ways to protect against malware than ceding control to a large corporation.

  6. unravel says:

    Can’t they just send out mass text messages that ohidunno, warn people they may have installed a malicious app? If it’s on the phone, chances are the damage has already been done.

  7. raskolnik says:

    Apple has a long history of draconian control over their devices. Why are people surprised by this?

    It was this extremely closed nature that turned me off the first-gen iPhone, and what continues to keep me away from them. Now that viable competitors are entering the market, why would I buy something that’s more restrictive and costs more?

    Still, people will continue to buy it, because so many are perfectly willing to cede almost complete control to our corporate overlords.

  8. snoop-blog says:

    @Chris Walters: Agreed. I just bought a samsung instinct, and I’m waiting for the 3rd party apps to be developed. It would piss me off if samsung did this, but I have a feeling that the owning a instinct will pay off in the end.

  9. Parting says:

    Boo Apple. *hugging my Blackberry*

    I’ll choose a device that permits me to install all 3rd party plugins over fashion gadget any day.

    Apple has some great marketing, to convince so many people to buy an overpriced gadget with worse-than-Microsoft protection software.

    Imagine your computer would do it? People would have burned Microsoft building long time ago…

  10. BigFoot_Pete says:

    The other side to this might be seen, however, as: If Apple knew that there was this possibility/vulnerability and could have helped but didn’t, they would have a far, far bigger problem on their hands. It’s likely this is part of the trade-off for the application store where anyone can get something online before extensive testing.

    The reality is that Apple won’t “pull the lever” inappropriately knowing what kind of customer backlash would exist and how quickly word of it would be disseminated. The Consumerist and Gizmodo alone would run multiple articles to squawk people to attention.

    It’s one of the beauties or this place, it’s hard for any company to get very far down a muddy road of customer alienation or private information safety before we all start yelling.

  11. Cocotte says:

    Honestly, if such a malicious app showed up and they WEREN’T able to kill it we’d give them hell.

  12. Skiffer says:

    Does this surprise anyone?

    Apple stopped selling hardware a long time ago – all they sell now are contracts.

  13. snoop-blog says:

    Btw- went on a 4hour drive to Chicago and back yesterday, and I must say the navigation on it is impressive. I was thinking it was going to be crappy, just good enough to get away with calling it a navigational system, but it really blew me away. One button, then I say (for example) “pizza” it reconizes my voice and what I said (without training it first) pulls up a search of nearby pizza places (which I can arrange by distance, rating, etc) push on the one I want, and it pulls up the phone #, adress, ratings and such, and I can choose to get driving directions from where I’m at, or just view it on a map.

    It also calculates your trips miles, and tells you the eta. the eta was impressive, based on stops and traffic, it will recalculate it every so often. It told me where the traffic was, and where to go to get around it. You can also just get the directions instead of the 3D gps thingy. And I did all that without reading the manual so it’s super easy to use all those features.

  14. snoop-blog says:

    Does anyone know if samsung has a similar “kill switch”?

  15. goodpete says:

    I don’t understand why this is news? We’ve known for months that the apps would have DRM attached to them. Apple’s “Fair”play DRM (like nearly all DRM) has the ability to de-authorize content by simply invalidating the certificate.

    This is the same DRM used by the iTunes store. Everyone knows that Apple could render your music unusable in the same fashion… right?

    I really don’t understand why this is suddenly a story. This is very old news that apparently took years for anyone to actually pay attention.

    if you find you are upset about not having control over content you paid for, you should strive to learn more about DRM in general. There is a large movement to get companies to reconsider the DRM they attach to their music/movies/TV/applications/books and other media.

  16. Isn’t this almost exactly like a “security update” from Microsoft, or their Malicious software removal tool? It’s pretty much just Apple’s own antivirus. It doesn’t shut down the phone, just prevents something harmful from running.

  17. Dobernala says:

    @Cocotte: Why? We’d remove the app ourselves. Don’t need Big Brother Steve to babysit me.

    I will not be purchasing an iPhone, though not for this reason specifically.

  18. Rask says:

    Why not. People let Apple get away with everything else..

  19. acknight says:

    This isn’t news. Apple has from the beginning stated that they would not permit apps which would compromise phones or the network. Effectively, this gives them the ability to retract apps that prove to be a problem.

  20. scoobydoo says:

    The Blackberry solution is to enable a “firewall” for all the apps. YOU as the user can determine just what an app is allowed to do, who it is allowed to call, and what it is allowed to interact with. It’s a nice and clean solution, and doesn’t put Apple in charge of your device.

  21. thecodingeye says:

    Here is what I think would be a better solution that would keep the Great Steve from being able to directly control what apps we put on our iPhone/iPod Touch. When an app shows up in the blacklist, temporally disable the app while warning them of what mischief it will cause. Then give them the option of restoring the app. This way Apple can’t disable an app just because they don’t like it.

  22. consumerd says:

    @hardtoremember:

    It could be good and it could be bad but being able to remotely kill a malicious app seems like it’s better than bad.

    You would think that, like a hacker is going “care” he stole your personal info off the iphone. Yea I hear the “caring” over here a plenty!

  23. gqcarrick says:

    If Apple products are so safe and secure like everyone believes then why would such a switch even be needed?

  24. shufflemoomin says:

    Some people are getting a little too paranoid. Apple explained why the functionality was there and it’s there for the user, not Apple. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for them to have the functionality to remotely disable something they discover to be malicious. People would complain if it got onto the app store and Apple DIDN’T do something about it. There’s a small section of the population that’ll never be happy with anything.

  25. snoop-blog says:

    @shufflemoomin: Small section nothing, It’s more like a small section of people who are happy.

  26. weakdome says:

    So they aren’t going to use it to disable the 8 people who currently own the “I Am Rich” program?

  27. veverkap says:

    Is this really surprising to anyone? I’m sure they are well-covered by their EULA on this. If you don’t like this, don’t buy the iPhone. Apple has a right to produce a product how they see fit. If they think that a closed application framework is the best solution, let the market decide (and I’m pretty sure that it has).

    Why do we need to “stick” it to Apple because they produced their product the way that they did? If you don’t like the product, don’t purchase it. If you purchase the product, then you purchase it as it is made.

    Me personally, I’m holding out for an Android phone because I want to control what I put on the phone. Oh, and AT&T sucks.

  28. SportsCentre says:

    It seems like almost everyone would be satisfied if the kill switch existed, but you could opt out of being subject to it.

  29. coren says:

    @Dobernala: Unless the ap prevents you from removing itself. It’s been known to happen.

    @TheSpatulaOfLove: You say “dealing with” like it’s some horrendous restriction imposed on you without your consent – didn’t you know going in about the open source?

  30. crichton007 says:

    This is nothing more than a safety net for when Apple accidentally lets through an “I Am Rich” application that does more than make lots of money for Apple and even more for another guy.It looks like their review process could do with a little review itself.

  31. coren says:

    @shufflemoomin: The possibility exists for Apple to use it however they want as well. Just because they say one thing doesn’t make it true.

    @david_consumerist: …huh?

  32. howie_in_az says:

    How does this effect jailbroken iPhones? Can Apple opt to kill the jailbreak via this kill switch? Can they kill-switch any known application(s) that can only run on jailbroken phones?

  33. lpranal says:

    IF they start pulling unofficial apps because they don’t like it, or AT&T doesn’t like it, then I’d be pissed. IF they use it like they should be used, i.e. against a worm that wipes out your phone and bricks it, I’d be glad they put it in. At the end of the day, would I rather lose a couple apps than all my data? You bet your ass.

    Steve, you know what the right thing to do is. This power is a duty to not piss off your customer base, many of whom are early adopters, cutting edge, and open-source minded. This really REALLY NEEDS to be a “break glass in case of emergency” option and not a button wired to your desk, which you yawn and press whenever AT&T comes knocking.

  34. oneliketadow says:

    At the Open Source conference in Portland a few weeks back I saw lots of Macs and iPhones, but the same people were ranting and raving about how “controlling” Microsoft is. The moral of the story is that you’re company can be assholes if the case looks nice. Take a hint Comcast, make your cable modems white and you’ll be loved.

  35. sp00nix says:

    I just think that they believe all of their own apple users are idiots.

  36. JohnDeere says:

    if i wanted a kill switch id buy one.

  37. IAmMarchHare says:

    @shufflemoomin: “People would complain if it got onto the app store and Apple DIDN’T do something about it.”

    Why? Name another phone that does this, please. It just isn’t expected.

    Does anyone really believe this is going to stop a worm anyhow? By the time they would “hit the switch”, it would be too late.

  38. Khuluna says:

    Well, let’s see. If someone discovered an exploit in an app that could slowly seep my personal data out, and I happened to be asleep or something where I couldn’t use my phone, or if it was unnoticable, I’d DEFINITELY want Apple to pull the killswitch on it, especially if it might be something like someone pulling off my credit card info.

    However, the problem is trusting them to use it responsibly, and I trust them to be too busy coming up with something else to distract me from my daily life to just kill an app because they can. After all, they deleted the ‘I am Rich’ app, but didn’t nuke it, right?

  39. Bakkster_Man says:

    @gqcarrick: If they spend so much time reviewing and verifying apps and their updates, why would they need a killswitch?

  40. CaliforniaCajun says:

    The the naysayers here who seem to think that giving Apple control like this is only a bad thing:

    Remember the $999.99 app from last week? If Apple was so trigger happy, why didn’t they use the kill switch on this app? Or on the tethering app that they’ve allowed and removed twice from the app store?

    I tend to believe Jobs when he says this is for emergencies; I don’t think Apple would use the kill switch unless there was a chance of network interruption or a back door in some app crafted for malicious intent.

  41. eismcsquare2 says:

    HA!

    It’s just that iphone fanbois just love their walled garden, while everybody else can have their adventure in the jungle of amazon. Take your pick – either follow the herd, just be another sheeple and let a corporate take control of what you can and can not do on your OWN phone, or, er, just enjoy the freedom of doing whatever you want to do with your OWN phone.

    I say, Apple should continue doing things like this – at least its helping educating some of the sheeple about it.

  42. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Oh, come on people, you know better than this. The “kill” functionality is for their convenience, not yours. If it was for your convenience, they’d charge you extra for it.

  43. gqcarrick says:

    @Bakkster_Man: Exactly. Mine and your reasoning are why I will never want an iphone.

  44. zentex says:

    @CaliforniaCajun: I agree. If a bad-App(le) got out there and they did use it, Apple would get praise. But because nothing has happened thus far, there is a bunch of griefing.

    Think of this shit-storm Apple would be in if there was a bad-App and they couldn’t control it?

    @Bakkster_Man: maybe they do rudimentary checks on the apps and that’s it? What if an App was genuinely designed to do something and get updates from a website, and then in an update became a bad-app?

    Personally, as long as Apple stays to it’s “incase of emergency, break glass” stance, I can’t see too much of a problem with this.

  45. gorckat says:

    Slippery slope.

    iPhone -> Desktop

  46. AnxiousDemographic says:

    It’s appropriate if you’re for trusting your corporate overlords, or inappropriate if you don’t trust them, or so I like to confuse myself.

    I won’t get really mad about remote kill switches until Apple launches the iCar in 2010. If that has a kill remote kill switch I’ll be furious.

  47. mapletree75 says:

    I would love to know when we stopped owning things we buy. I Love gadgets and tech toys but I prefer to won everything I buy. But I guess that’s just me.

  48. Rock79 says:

    I don’t mind it. For what I use my iPhone for, such a function can only be beneficial. And even if by chance, it gets triggered accidentally for a certain app, I don’t care… The core functionality of the phone and the apps that come with it are what I use the most, the rest is just icing on the cake.

  49. CRSpartan01 says:

    @gqcarrick:

    And why do you think Apple products are safe? Hmm…

  50. The Great Aussie Evil says:

    @gorckat: If they start killswitching my Macbook just because I’m using Firefox instead of Safari, I’m gonna go on a firebombing spree.

  51. Gokuhouse says:

    @gqcarrick: I have to agree. They must be worried that there may be a hole in their system that can be exploited.

  52. Nogard13 says:

    Most people who would worry about an app “Kill Switch” are those who’ve jailbroken their phones. In that case, I’m sure that the code has been combed over and it is/will be disabled when you jailbreak your phone.

    I don’t see it as a privacy thing, either, so long as it’s just my phone checking in with an Apple Server and not Apple polling phones to see what’s installed. By the way it’s described, your phone goes to Apple and asks for a list of “killable” apps and then checks to see if they’re installed (and disables them if they are). None of your data is leaving your phone and going to Apple.

  53. xwildebeestx says:

    reason #138 that I don’t own an iphone.

  54. BrianDaBrain says:

    it’s really not that bad if you stop for a moment to think of it. Yes, there’s a kill switch in your phone. No it’s not sending your personal data to Apple. It is, however, another safety net that is designed to keep people from, say, stealing all the cool personal info that is being stored on your phone. What’s the problem here?

  55. BrianDaBrain says:

    @Bakkster_Man: Mistakes happen. They always will. Something will eventually get through, and in that case, people will be happy to have the kill switch in place. Now think of the protocols your phone manufacturer has in case somebody finds a way to get malicious software on your phone… oh wait, there are none. Replace the phone. Wonderful.

  56. ppiddy says:

    I hate this feature…until the first time it saves me.

    There’s a lot of private data stored on a phone, and unlike a PC, it’s all stored in the same format/location on perfectly identical hardware. Learn to exploit one iPhone and you can exploit ALL iPhones. I’m glad Apple doesn’t have its head in the sand, pretending that the iPhone is somehow perfectly secure. No device is.

    I would _expect_ a feature like this in a phone where all software comes from one sandbox and bears the Apple ‘seal of approval’. 5 million phones suddenly sending all their private data to a third party would be a disaster for Apple that would completely ruin their image. Worse yet, what if someone figures out how to use the GPS to track you, the camera to watch you and the microphone to bug you?

    Given that they haven’t used this to wipe Netshare off my phone or to kill jailbroken phones, I’m not worried. Apple would lose a lot of customers if they started using this feature willy nilly, so I’d expect to see it used only if a deliberately malicious app gets into the store.

    There are lots of great phones out there if this concerns you, though.

  57. I don’t have an Iphone, but won’t be comfortable with any phone having a feature like it. It getting to be to much like 1984.

  58. Don’t like, it reminds me too much of 1984

  59. sorry about the double post, actually now triple :( wish they had an edit button here, I thought my first post was eaten

  60. coren says:

    @CaliforniaCajun: What need would there be to kill that? not widespread, doesn’t have anything Apple would want to theoretically kill, there’s just no cause to do it, especially when they can drop it at the source easily.

  61. JollyJumjuck says:

    @eismcsquare2: It appears that you and many others make the basic incorrect assumption that you actually *own* your iPhone. Not at all. You simply own the license to *use* it.

  62. xsmasher says:

    @weakdome: Probably not. A handful of apps have been removed from the store, either permanently or temporarily – a movie showtime app, a tethering app that let you use the phone as a modem, a light saber app, and a certain game that scanned your address book without asking.

    But those apps have *not* been added to this blacklist. Anyone who had them still has them, apple just stopped distributing them.

  63. Say for instance that my iPhone was hijacked by a bunch of genetically enhanced human leftovers from the Eugenics Wars…

    I’d like Steve Jobs to be able to use command codes to disable the shields on the iPhone…. although ultimately, I realize the malicious application would eventually be taken care of in the Mutara nebula, it would at least make things a little easier for Mr. Jobs.

  64. howie_in_az says:

    @ppiddy: Correction: they haven’t used the kill-switch on jailbroken phones yet. If something gets very popular and just happens to be jailbroken, I’m relatively certain Apple will kill it — especially if it makes some of their carriers nervous.

    Plus there may be very little stopping legitimate apps from using the kill switch. And how does the kill-switch work? Do the iPhones check in periodically with Apple to see what apps, if any, are to be killed? If so, how does the iPhone talk with Apple? What’s to stop some malicious h4x0r-type from redirecting an iPhone’s kill-switch check to a random site that instructs the phone to kill EVERY app, then install a bunch of malware?

    Yes it’s all a bunch of speculation, but just having the ability to kill an app means eventually someone will find out how that works and exploit it.

  65. If Microsoft was doing this there’s no kind of PR that would save them.

  66. Quilt says:

    There’s something very big brotherish about this. What happens WHEN some dude figures out how to hack the “Kill Switch.” Soon everybody will lose their copy of Super Monkey Ball!!!

    OH NOES!

  67. DeeJayQueue says:

    {puts on tinfoil hat}

    For all the crackberry, treo, palm, smartphone users out there who are all “wow i’m glad i didn’t get an iphone because MY service provider wouldn’t do that to ME”

    How do you know? How do you know they haven’t already, and just haven’t told you about it? It’s perfectly possible, and just as everyone else has mentioned, it’s probably spelled out in the EULA that you didn’t bother reading.

    Truth is, there has never been a device like this before, one that is so small but does so much. Each app is like a widget, and unless you jailbreak the phone you don’t really have access to the back end to see what they’re doing. Sure you can delete the app, but only if you know that it’s doing something it shouldn’t be. That’s why Apple has the switch. They want to be able to fry an app remotely that either through ignorance or malice is doing things it shouldn’t be, most likely while the user is unaware.

    Sure, they could send out an email saying “delete this app, it’s sending out bad code and fucking up the network, along with your personal data” and let the users take whatever action they felt necessary, but it would only take 1 app with some sort of back door worm that created a huge iPhone botnet for everyone to go “Oh man where was Apple when this thing got out?”

    Yeah, I wish Apple would trust people a little more with their gadgets, but I also realize that the same nightmares of incompatibility that happen in the windows marketplace with 20 zillion people writing shit code that doesn’t work at best and at worst fucks up something important, simply don’t happen anywhere near as often in the Mac world, and it’s that control factor that keeps it that way. Sure you can only use the protected apps from the app store, and maybe they don’t do everything you want your phone to do, but you can be sure that those apps are safe, or at least if they’re not, there are measures in place to help you out.

    I’ll guarantee that they’re not looking at the jailbroken apps to see if they’re running malicious code, and that’s where the code will be found, and probably soon.

  68. darkryd says:

    If this were a desktop computer or a laptop and we were told that Apple had the ability to access our hardware and delete apps off of it, we’d be going ballistic citing invasion of privacy.

    What makes the iphone any different?

  69. Blackneto says:

    this reasoning for a kill switch is fallacious.
    If the app is already on the phone it’s too late, the damage is done.

    Can’t wait for second gen freerunner from Open moko or someother phone maker that has a clue on how to treat customers.

  70. P_Smith says:

    Welcome to Apple Genuine Advantage. You’re a criminal until they say you’re not.

    Steve Jobs was and has always been McCartney to Steve Wozniak’s Lennon. Wozniak left the business, and Jobs has staggered on from one embarassment to another.

  71. eismcsquare2 says:

    @JollyJumjuck: Since when? I do not see Apple or AT&T advertising it as such. And even if I believe you for a minute, what you are saying is that after bonding myself for a 2 year contract and paying $$$, all I get is a license?

    Seems the RDF is very strong with you.

  72. Dyscord says:

    I’m fine with this. Apple controls almost every thing else on the damn phone anyway. It’s actually pretty reasonable. If a program were malicious they can just kill it before it does too much damage.

    Besides, everyone seems to assume that they would use this for their own gain. If they did, that would hurt their image pretty bad. So until they start doing that, I really don’t care.

  73. humphrmi says:

    A bit late to the discussion I know, but today I just found out that a friend of mine, who has an iPhone 1.0 with the new firmware (2.x something) lost access to an app (a free one) he downloaded from the Apple iPhone app store; apparently for some reason this app lost it’s blessing from Apple, and now he can’t run it.

  74. FLConsumer says:

    If this was a Microsoft product, people would be outraged at such a capability and flood the stores demanding refunds. But, it’s Apple, so it’s okay.

  75. god_forbids says:

    Did anybody else read about the other app (besides “I’m Rich”) to be banned from the App Store? It was a program that let you tether the iPhone to use it as a modem for your laptop. Apparently this was against AT&T’s rules, so Apple pulled the plug.

    I see them just as likely to use the “kill-switch” on those few people who were able to DL the app before it got toasted, as for the claimed use.

  76. MrThunderfield says:

    What’s so wrong about this? I know you may like your privacy etc, but we’re talking viruses here. Apple would only kill an app if it was malicious, and I know all of you wouldn’t want malicious apps on your phone.

    Since it is evidently so easy making apps for the iphone, and someone could make a mistake when screening them for the app store, this is IMO a most welcome thing.

    Get a Symbian if you don’t like it ;)

  77. orielbean says:

    This makes sense to me. What better virus platform than an Iphone – you have enough money to buy one and get the expensive data plan, so you definitely have data worth stealing. I think they did the right thing. If the phone was open sourced and the apps were open sourced, that would be a different story here.

  78. shepd says:

    Since you’re all assuming the good side of the coin, consider this:

    How many viruses disable your anti-virus? Most of them. And they’ve been doing this for a long time, long enough you’d think AV makers would have improved this portion of the code.

    Do you really think that an iPhone virus isn’t going to deactivate what will probably turn out to be an easy to turn off kill-switch? Of course it will, and Apple knows it. They have it in there for other things, like trying to prevent jailbreaks, etc.

  79. trujunglist says:

    @Dobernala:

    Yeah, because most virus make it easy for people to remove them.

    For those worrying about jailbroken iphones being deactivated by a kill switch, let me just point out an application called little snitch. Oh wait, most of you are probably uninformed pc users, how inconsiderate of me. How exactly do you think the iphone would “phone” home? It’s not going to dial out, that’s for sure. What’s the wonderful tool we all use to block outgoing or incoming internet traffic called again?

    Either way you look at it, be it a virus or a jailbroken app, the kill switch will be useless now that it’s been outed.

  80. sperotium says:

    This is the standard attitude of Apple. Locking down everything. Reminds me of the Mac/PC comparison:

    [binaryfractal.blogspot.com]

    Great that they are protect their users, but always limiting.

  81. MngoJuce says:

    Although Apple’s “intentions” are good I can’t help wondering what it’s real purpose is. I mean in this day and age we are fairly capable to handle any malware/virus’s that are geared for evil purposes. wouldn’t it make more sense to have some sort of software protection instead?

  82. CyberSkull says:

    I think just sending a notice to all phones would be good enough.