In March of this year Apple applied for a patent on technology that enables or disables features of a phone via a config file. The tech is already in use: it’s the carrier profiles we’ve been downloading recently. On the one hand this is just an extension of the parental controls that Apple has included in Mac OS X since the early days, but it also implies some rather anti-consumer thinking at the company.
One examplar claim in the patent is that the config file can include a “blacklist of device resources to be restricted from access.”
AT&T used this this technology to block MMS until recently, and uses it now to block tethering, but the description given in the patent application goes much further:
For example, a carrier may wish to provide an enhanced service which utilizes the global positioning system (GPS) functionality in a mobile device. Carrier may wish to charge a premium for this service, so it may configure carrier provisioning profile to disallow third party applications from accessing the GPS functionality in device, and instead only allow applications digitally signed by carrier (or another entity affiliated with carrier) to access the GPS services in device.
Readers may remember the Trusted Computing video by Lutz Vogel and Benjamin Stephan that spotlighted the growing interest within the computing industry to impose new and artificial restrictions on the way we use the hardware and software we use daily.