Of iPods and digits

Of iPods and digits

Summary: In March of 2007, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's crime task force suggested that iPods should come with fingerprint readers that would lock out anyone who wasn't the owner. Presumably the way it would work is that an iPod would come tabula rasa and "imprint" on the first finger that touched it.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Apple
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In March of 2007, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's crime task force suggested that iPods should come with fingerprint readers that would lock out anyone who wasn't the owner. Presumably the way it would work is that an iPod would come tabula rasa and "imprint" on the first finger that touched it. Thereafter, if any other finger attempted access, the machine would lock up until it saw its master's digit once again. Aware of this situation, a thief wouldn't bother stealing the iPod in the first place. (Either that or he'd steal your digit, too.) Problem (more or less) solved. The same technique could be applied to cell phones, PCs, Playstation Portables and other electronica.

So What?

A fingerprint iPod would be rather like a tattoo or a pacemaker: You can admire mine but if you want one, you have to get your own. I believe economists would say that they are "inalienable" property—as opposed to "alienable" property (like bananas or the flu), which can be transferred.

The secure iPod is part of a larger notion that crime can be "designed out" of products by making them intrinsically secure, an elegant idea. Apparently the task force's report doesn't put forward any examples other than the iPod, which is a shame...but since it's our job to speculate...

Biometrics are the obvious (but not very interesting) way to go. If a fingerprint or retinal scan is required to activate a device, then thieves will apparently be stymied (ignoring the digit theft observation above). An expensive item (such as a car) may require better biometrics since thieves will have a greater motivation to bypass its security.

There is another, more provocative option, however: absorption. It's hard to steal a Bluetooth headset when it's lodged in your ear canal. And cell phones: The display and keypad could conceivably be absorbed into a forearm (or some forearms: Forearms that played football in university, let's say, rather than forearms like mine that were on the dance committee). This is of interest mainly in countries where carriers don't subsidize the cost of phones, so a $500 phone really is worth $500 and hence is worth stealing.

Note that there's a balance to be struck, here. The more expensive an item, the "deeper" into your person it must be absorbed. The last thing you want is for a thief to do a mess/benefit analysis and decide that your valuables are worth the trouble. Keep your retirement savings in the form of small gold ingots securely stashed in your abdomen? Be afraid.

Topics: Mobility, Apple

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5 comments
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  • I always keep in iPod in plain sight

    That way, if I get mugged, the thief takes the useless iPod and leaves right away without finding my hidden Zune. The poor thief now has to deal with nightmares like [url=http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=1255910&tstart=15] this. [/url]
    NonZealot
    • Zune?

      http://www.roughlydrafted.com/2007/11/22/why-microsofts-zune-is-still-failing/
      SquishyParts
      • One would...

        find that one Zuned their pants while being mugged.
        CowLauncher
  • RE: Of iPods and digits

    It's Security Vs. Usability.
    There will definitely be a backdoor around the biometrics, just as you can wipe a stolen hard drive (or flash it's bios). This backdoor will mean theives (not the guy next door, mind) still have the incentive to steal. So say only the apple store can use the back door, and the serial is registered to the user? I'd be willing to bet a criminal could get his hands on the unlock codes/software really easily - just like getting unlock codes for a cell phone. So what do you have then? Usability issues for customers.
    You can't assume that the biometrics will work every time, and so you're going to annoy customers. When it does break, or they burn their finger etc, they will need to take their product to the store to get it unlocked. Waste of time, and total annoyance.
    If it won't deter thieves, and will definitely annoy some customers - why have it?
    Not only that, but there is already an optional padlock on iPods.
    I don't see how biometric security on personal devices offers any advantage.

    Big diff between the US and UK (IMHO) - UK is very worried about security and crime, while in the US it's all about how awesome the product is (taking for granted of course somebody is going to steal it, so take care of your stuff). Personally, I want as little between me and my product/entertainment as possible.
    felix.sargent
    • I disagree

      "There will definitely be a backdoor around the biometrics.."
      Biometrics is very safe and that's why nuclear power plants and utility companies use them to protect against terrorist threats here in the USA.

      "You can't assume that the biometrics will work every time, and so you're going to annoy customers."

      Very low probaility on this concern unless you are using cheap outdated biometric technology.

      "I'd be willing to bet a criminal could get his hands on the unlock codes/software really easily - just like getting unlock codes for a cell phone."

      You need to do your homework on biometrics. It is very safe and far from easy to hack. A thief with high hacking skills could make a lot more money by cracking a database that is password protected and selling personal information on the black market rather than the tiny resale money of an ipod. Therefore it will succesfully deter thieves.

      The burned finger is not a viable concern since you can register all your fingers with most biometric readers.
      ceelox