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The iphone Kill Switch Confirmed (Update)

John on August 12, 2008 at 10:26 pm

Update 8/13: CNET’s Tom Krazit writes a column on all things Apple. He has a post up about the kill switch issue. He feels that, basically, we don’t know enough to start getting upset about it. I wrote to him this morning, briefly recounting my experience, and arguing that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the kill switch has already been used (to kill Box Office). I’m hopeful he’ll either respond or do some further investigation. Apple needs to explain to users why the Box Office app mysteriously stopped working the day or day after they removed it from iTunes.

On second thought, Tom seems more interested in buying Apple’s line on this. Anyone who disagrees is a paranoid lunatic in need of a tin-foil hat. We’ll see how independent a journalist he is. Maybe he’ll rise above expectations.

[End update]

A week or so ago I wrote about a bad experience with my new iphone wherein an application I had downloaded stopped working. I later found out Apple had removed it from the App store without any explanation or warning.

Some people claimed that the app still worked but I, and many others, who tried using it after it was pulled found that the app simply crashed on launch. We had some discussion in the comments about whether or not Apple was actually disabling apps they didn’t want you to have or simply stopping their distribution.

Well, things became a bit clearer today when Apple confirmed that the iphone does indeed have a “kill switch” for apps:

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has confirmed that the iPhone 3G has a kill switch that can remotely remove software from the devices.

Jobs told The Wall Street Journal that Apple needs the capability in case it inadvertently allows a malicious program — such as an application that steals user’s personal data — to be distributed to iPhones through its App Store.

“Hopefully we never have to pull that lever, but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull,” Jobs said.

So, first off the kill switch is real. Jobs attempt to spin it as “responsibility” is exactly what I’d expect from him. He seems unable to grasp the concept that many of us don’t want Apple to be responsible for the phones in our pockets. It’s bad enough they’ve locked everyone in to one service provider, but when it comes to disabling programs I’ve chosen to have on my phone… Back off, Steve!

Second, I’d bet my phone that Jobs is lying about it not being used yet. If it wasn’t used, how come my Box Office app stopped functioning completely the day they pulled it off itunes? How come so many others that had the program experienced the same mysterious app failure the same day? Click on the app and it would start to load and then simply fail. Sounds a lot like a kill switch to me.

Here’s what one tech analyst had to say about the revelation:

“The kill switch is a very controlling gesture. I am not sure why Apple didn’t disclose it up front as simply a security measure,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis. “Consumers will accept an awful lot if you let them know what they are accepting.”

Apple being “controlling” — now there’s a shock.

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