Apple Wins Anti-Surveillance, Search, Navigation Patents


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Yesterday was a big day for Apple when it comes to patents. Late yesterday they were assigned several new patents related to a wide variety of technologies, including one that should make privacy advocates very happy.

The first of the patents is related to navigation using a mobile device (i.e., an iPhone). The patent, excitingly titled "Adaptive Mobile Device Navigation" describes exactly the kind of turn-by-turn navigation that Apple unveiled as part of iOS 6 at last week's WWDC 2012 keynote. The patent, a PDF of which can be seen here, shows that the turn-by-turn navigation feature is designed primarily to be used in a vehicle, though it should also work well for walking. Perhaps the most interesting part of this particular patent, though, is the drawings. While most patents include drawings that show the patented technology's functionality, these appear to confirm the new iPhone's redesign as well.

The second patent covers a graphical user interface for search on a touchscreen mobile device. Now, before you start thinking that Apple's getting into the search business, the patent deals primarily with searching within a user's own data. That is, email, contacts, notes, and so on. Indeed, based on the drawings associated with the patent (PDF), this appears to be very much like what has already been implemented in iOS's spotlight feature.

The third patent is the really interesting one. Titled "Techniques To Pollute Electronic Profiling," this patent deals with technology designed to foil data surveillance. The method for doing so is intriguing: a cloned identity is created. The cloned identity is given personal information similar (but not identical) to the user's in order to foster believability. The cloned identity is given interests similar to those of the user (again, not exactly alike). Once established, the cloned identity takes a variety of actions that are designed to pollute the data that eavesdroppers may be gathering on the user. Such actions include internet searches, clicking ads, clicking links, and even engaging in very basic chats. The cloned identity would be inactive any time the actual user was online.

With this technology, Apple is attempting to address some of the privacy concerns that have arisen from the proliferation of internet-based transactions. The patent notes that people - especially in America - have a tendency to be suspicious of both the government and big businesses (like Apple and Google). It notes that the information age has given rise to numerous "Little Brothers" who perform much of the same kind of surveillance Americans tend to fear when they talk about "Big Brother"-type government surveillance. The technology covered by this patent is designed to muddy the waters, making data gathered in such surveillance unusable to those who are watching.

For more information, you can check out the patent here.