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Apple blueprints warranty Big Brother

Don't open that iPhone

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Apple has filed a patent application for a technology that could detect, time-stamp, and remember "whether consumer abuse has occurred in an electronic device."

Apple's many patent filings usually focus on technologies that could benefit consumers. This one is aimed directly at benefitting Apple itself.

The filing, "Consumer Abuse Detection System and Method," describes a system that can determine when an "abuse event [is] detected by the one or more sensors [and] includes at least one of a liquid ingress event, a thermal event, a shock event, and a tamper event."

The system could then let customer-service personnel know that a device which had failed had been mucked around with by its owner and not simply failed on its own. Thus alerted, the service provider could determine that the problem was not covered by the device's warranty.

All well and good. What concerns us, however, is the following:

Consumer abuse may include exposing an electronic device to liquids, extreme temperatures, or excessive shock (e.g., the resulting impact from dropping the device). Consumer abuse may also result from tampering which may include any interaction with the device that is not related to operating the device in a normal manner (e.g., opening the casing or housing of a device and adding, removing, or altering the internal components).

Liquids? Of course. Excessive heat? Reasonable. Shock? Likewise. But "opening the casing or housing of a device"? That worries us.

Ever since the iPod was introduced, Apple has been sealing up its devices tighter than a drum, making such traditionally user-serviceable parts as batteries inaccessible. iPods, iPhones, MacBook Pros - all are locked up tight.

What's more, the filing indicates that the system could be employed in such a way as to disable a device if "customer abuse" - including "tampering" - were detected.

As alpha-geeks, we prefer to be able to open up any and all of our devices whenever it suits our needs - or, for that matter, even our whims.

The idea that a tamper-sensing system could disable our Apple devices if we had the temerity to open them up gives us pause.

Detecting that a dishonest cad had lied about how he dropped his iPhone into a pot of boiling beef broth is reasonable enough. But disabling said smartphone simply because an adventurous soul peeked inside seems a bit extreme.

Preventing a jive-ass mo-fo from gaming the warranty system? Good. Punishing curiosity? Bad. ®

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