Sunday, July 26, 2009

Apple: Want anonymity? You must be a drug dealer

Anonymity can be a very useful thing. Iranian dissidents use anonymity preserving systems in order to browse the web without suffering under the watchful eye of the state security apparatus. Likewise, FBI agents investigating child pornographers browse the Web using systems like Tor, so that the bad guys don't see a address in the web server access logs.

Bloggers, whistleblowers, and our founding fathers all made use of anonymity in order to freely speak unpopular or dangerous information.

While anonymity is arguably as American as apple pie, that hasn't stopped Apple Corp. from continuing its war against all things anonymous.

In 2004, AppleInsider, a Mac rumor blog, published (presumably leaked) information about a forthcoming Apple product. The company went to court in order to try and force the blog to reveal their anonymous sources. AppleInsider turned to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who successfully convinced the court to apply California's journalist shield law to bloggers. The court eventually forced Apple to pay the EFF a cool $700,000 in legal fees.

Apple still hates anonymity

Even after that rather expensive lesson, it seems that Apple still has no love for those who seek anonymity.

In a recent filing with the copyright office, Apple has argued that consumers who wish to jailbreak their mobile phones and change the device's unique serial number must be drug dealers or other criminals.
[E]ach iPhone contains a unique Exclusive Chip Identification (ECID) number that identifies the phone to the cell tower. With access to the BBP via jailbreaking, hackers may be able to change the ECID, which in turn can enable phone calls to be made anonymously (this would be desirable to drug dealers, for example) or charges for the calls to be avoided.
Remember that the only way a US consumer can legitimately use an iPhone (at least in Apple's eyes) is to sign up for service with AT&T: A company that willingly (and illegally) violated the privacy of millions of Americans by allowing the US National Security Agency to spy on their calls, text messages, emails and web browsing activity.

To therefore argue that drug dealers are the main beneficiaries of iPhone anonymity is a pretty disgraceful lie. David Hayes, Apple's bigshot IP lawyer at Fenwick and West who wrote this letter should be ashamed of himself.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous to who, exactly?

The ECID in the phone is only one of several different methods that can be used to link a carrier registered phone to human identity. If someone uses a carrier registered phone and only modifies ECID, it is trivial for the tele-government bureaucracy to perform an origin/identity trace. This doesn't even take into account that they can easily identify you by voice if they have an existing recording to match to.

Anonymous said...

Voice is the simplest thing to fake, although I'm pretty sure there's a little more than just the ECID that identifies the phone

Anonymous said...

As if the drug dealers would use them as is :D

Unknown said...

If it is possible to change numbers now, then why is there a million griefers sleeping?

Mario Rodrigo said...

what about IMEI? When I replaced my iPhone 3G I had them transfer my Serial to the new Device, but the IMEI was a new one.

Anonymous said...

EXACTLY. I don't know what the hell an ECID is, because it is something Apple made up. IMEI is the unique serial number of the phone. And guess what, no matter what you do with the phone itself your SIM card has ANOTHER number called the IMSI which identifies it. You can switch phones and hack them all you want but if you continue to use the same SIM card then it's all traceable back to your phone number/account. So ECID might be some crap Apple invented to track their phones, but it has NOTHING to do with the mobile (GSM or UMTS) networks.

BESIDES, if drug dealers want to be anonymous just got to a mom-and-pop retail store and buy a prepaid phone with cash (don't go to WalMart, etc because they have too many cameras)

All of this negates the fact that for years (at least in the United States) it has been illegal to tamper with ESN, IMEI or whatever number the phone uses to identify itself on the network.

Anonymous said...

How to find your ECID and sign iBSS on Mac:

Anonymous said...

*67 + Disposable phone = Drug Dealer. iPhone with spoofed phone number = Hacker with bad taste in mobile phones.

Anyone could hack a phone to get it to do what they wanted, so why does apple care so much about their iPhone?

Mateo Jose said...


And I use a pre-paid phone that I purchased with cash. I make (virtually) anonymous calls.

Apple, did you ever think that this type of anonymity has been practiced for years? You are so full it.


Anonymous said...

No he shouldn't be ashamed of anything.