While Apple has opened the iPhone to third-party applications, they are also reportedly keeping a very close eye on which applications are allowed to run on your phone. According to hacker Jonathan Zdziarski, the iPhone has the ability to ‘phone home’ and tell Apple what applications are installed, and if Apple doesn’t like what it sees, they can neutralize the offending application. Zdziarski says this suggests that the iPhone calls home once in a while to find out what applications it should turn off. He discovered this ability tucked away in a configuration file deep inside the iPhone called “CoreLocation,” when he was doing a forensic examination of an iPhone 3G.
MacRumors reported that Apple has set up a site to keep a list of apps it doesn’t like, although nothing is on the list at the moment. MacRumors also suggested that a built-in kill switch could be used to remotely kill and remove malware. InsideTech reported that Steve Jobs confirmed that the iPhone has a kill switch built-in that will allow Apple to remotely kill and remove an application sold via the App Store from a user’s iPhone, in case an malicious application inadvertently made its way onto the App Store. Jobs also said that their App Store has generated $30 million in sales already, and that over 60 million applications — mostly free — were downloaded, which is also expected to drive sales of the iPhone.
Given the fact that the National Security Agency (NSA) had a hand in the ‘security’ of Apple and Microsoft, the kill switch comes as no surprise. The breach of privacy issues this opens is potentially a whole new can of worms.
What else is Apple keeping track of? Several applications have already been killed with no explanation from Apple, angering many developers who feel that Apple’s control over what sort of apps they can develop is onerous and restrictive. Jobs says the kill switch would be needed, for example, if an application were found to be stealing a user’s personal data, adding that “hopefully” Apple would never have to pull that lever, but that it would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull in the first place.
Questions remain about what will happen to unsanctioned applications downloaded to unlocked iPhones, and whether or not the iPhone can disable an application it doesn’t like, even if the user has paid for it.