back to article Mad Apple patent: Cloneware to convince trackers you don't like porn

Apple have patented the idea of using data clones to hide from surveillance: data clones that will browse the internet under your name but will look at basket-weaving sites instead of porn. In one of the stranger Apple patents that we've seen in recent months, author Stephen R Carter details a way of stopping eavesdroppers …


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  1. Mage Silver badge

    Oh dear

    When is the Patent system going to be reformed with only "real" patents?

  2. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Or, just have the clone look at pr0n, whilst you look at basket weaving. That way, when you stand accused of ogling nekkid bodies, you can plausibly blame your 'clone'.

  3. TRT Silver badge

    I suspect...

    That El Reg is staffed and patronised ENTIRELY by these clones anyway. Spooky!

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      Re: I suspect...

      Wouldn't that mean you're one too?

      And me?

      <-- The one identical to the one next to it please...

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: I suspect...

        That was the spooky thing. That and the 2kg bundle of willow that arrived by courier this morning.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So The Register commentards invent it

    And Apple claim the patent to it

    how does that work?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Apple's patent predates that post by a considerable margin.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        what about

      2. Ben Tasker Silver badge

        What about this post then?

        Good few years before 2011 ;-)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Would use of such a service be seen as an attempt to pervert the course of justice?

    I just wonder about the legality of it should you find yourself under investigation for any reason. Any reason at all (and remember all those public bodies with RIPA rights to investigate your communications data...)

    Certainly it would raise suspicion in the same way as declining to give your details (when there is no allegation of an offence) to an enquiring PC in the street can, but in this case it's a bit more active.

    If not, might they pursue you for breaching the t&c's of your ISP? After they'll extradite you for alleged copyright infringement (another civil offence)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Would use of such a service be seen as an attempt to pervert the course of justice?

      I'd be more worried about Apple living up to their normal coding standards and screwing up. For instance whilst you're innocently looking at some basket weaving website their buggy software could be off looking at some dodgy porno on your behalf, leaving you to explain that to the authorities... It could easily happen. I presume they're going to have white lists, which need only contain a couple of trivial mistakes to lead to some infuriating results.

      One thing I did notice - they mentioned something along the lines of participating in an online forum on your behalf using a crude AI. Now I'm no expert, but that would surely start verging on breaking the computer misuse laws. Directing a torrent of machine generated drivel at some poor innocent forum and devaluing it's worth for the real users / owners / advertisers has got to be close to illegal.

      1. Darryl

        Re: Would use of such a service be seen as an attempt to pervert the course of justice? opposed to El Reg where there's a torrent of human generated drivel directed at the forums?

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: Would use of such a service be seen as an attempt to pervert the course of justice?

          The difference is that drivel generated by machines does nothing the advertisers, whereas human generated drivel does. At the end of the day a human may be persuaded to part with cash and buy the advertised goods, whereas the machine is always going to ignore the ad. Unless there's a bug.

          Perhaps this is where this is leading. We've had video recorders to watch TV programs that we've no intention of watching ourselves. We've now got PVRs to do the same thing, only digitally, and more than one at time. Now Apple are saying that we can have a machine to talk to other people for us on forums that we've no interest in. Perhaps that will evolve into their machine spending our money for us on goods that we have no interest in either, save us the hassle... Ker-ching!!!

      2. Roger Varley

        Re: Would use of such a service be seen as an attempt to pervert the course of justice?

        >One thing I did notice - they mentioned something along the lines of participating in an online forum on >your behalf using a crude AI.

        They've obviously been testing that bit in here. Would certainly explain AManFromMars

      3. Thorne

        Re: Would use of such a service be seen as an attempt to pervert the course of justice?

        Actually you'd be best setting the robot to search for porn that way any porn can be blamed on the robot.

        "I wasn't looking up lesbian cheerleaders, Honey. It was the robot. Bad Robot!"

  6. frank ly

    My clone just went rogue, ....

    .... it signed me up to fifteen extreme porn sites and ordered 15 litres of KY-jelly and a gross of dildos. (I should never have given it my address and credit card details.)

    1. Thorne

      Re: My clone just went rogue, ....

      "it signed me up to fifteen extreme porn sites and ordered 15 litres of KY-jelly and a gross of dildos. (I should never have given it my address and credit card details.)"

      Ah but did you send it back to get a refund?

      No I didn't think so

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Get it right, Anna

    It wasn't "very detailed information about the location of iPhone users", it was very detailed information about cell towers near iPhone users.

  8. 1Rafayal
    Paris Hilton

    If I had some cloneware, would it prevent me from getting emails about "weight loss tea"?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'it could be that Apple wants to use this patent as a way to protect its users from malevolent tracking outsiders'

    or, and in my opinion, more likely, Apple see the obfuscation of tracking data as a business risk so want to have a mechanism to fend of potential polluters

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It makes me think of a future...

    of endless surveillance, by the police, government, and giant corporations. And an endless, epic high-tech cyber battle between the limitless little-brother drones and the automated human clones your service provider generates for your privacy and protection. Never knowing whether a person, site, or company is real or AI unless you visit them in the flesh - and then not knowing if they're who they say they are or the police, or a company representative with a hard-sell script and a compulsory purchase squad to back him up.

    I'm now seriously worrying about what Steve Jobs was planning before he died!

  11. joeW

    Tinfoil hat theory

    If this technology is widely deployed, it would make targeted advertising worth a lot less to companies who wanted to market stuff on the internet. This would lead to a lot less cash going in the direction of companies who specialize in providing targeted adverts. It would, in fact, be like dropping a thermonuclear device on such companies.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tinfoil hat theory

      How'd you work that out?

      Surely the advertising would just have to be redesigned to appeal to the bots.

    2. Anonymous Bosch

      Re: Tinfoil hat theory

      What would this do to Google's worth?

  12. M Gale

    Not a new idea, why in the hell was this patent granted?

    TrackMeNot plugin for Firefox. Why even try going under the radar when you can obliterate it with chaff and flares?

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: Not a new idea, why in the hell was this patent granted?

      And Trackmenot predates the filing of the patent by at least 5 years:

      1. Darryl

        Re: Not a new idea, why in the hell was this patent granted?

        Yes, but now Apple can sue them into oblivion.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    new for old

    Way back in the mists of time, when the Internet was a collection of FTP, UseNet and Gopher sites, and the WWW was just taking its first faltering hesitant steps there was a bit of demo software called 'Microsoft Agent' which I think was designed to do much of what this does - anyone remember it?

    1. Alain Moran

      Re: new for old

      MS-Agent was the base technology behind clippy ... "it looks like you're writing a letter" ;)

      1. LinkOfHyrule
        Big Brother

        No no no...

        The real MS Agents wear sharp black suits, dark shades and knock on your door when you're home alone. You answer and the agent says to you in a menacing tone "I see you're writing a letter" - you reply in the time honoured tradition of telling them to fuck off and punching them in the face. Two minuets later their back at the door - "I see you're trying to print a document" etc

  14. Mark 'Brain Fart' Berry
    Black Helicopters

    Or, just to be paranoid.....

    Apple could be planning to pollute what anyone outside the walled apple garden see's, keeping it's own accurate info on its slaves... errr, users, thus boosting the value of the data they hold.

  15. Alain Moran

    Even weirder ...

    What would be weirder than basket weaving kits arriving at your house? ... being in a chat room about basket-weaving that's suddenly invaded by thousands of apple bots talking nonsense to each other! :o

  16. The BigYin

    Prior art

    I give you "TrackMeNot". Ok, it just does searching but the idea is the same.

    Seriously Apple, tw@ off with these patents.

    You are part of the problem, and then you try to patent an idea for the problem you are part of.

  17. Circadian

    Obligatory xkcd

    1. D@v3

      Re: Obligatory xkcd

      After reading that one, did the (equally) obligatory random (coz no one goes to XKCD for just 1 comic, do they?)

      Anyway, clicked Random, got this..

      very scary.

  18. LinkOfHyrule

    This is similar to a product I have just patented - it's for people into basket weaving who are rather embarrassed by this outdated crafting method - my product browses for bizarre hardcore leather bondage porn and conducts fake cyber sex chat sex sessions on your behalf. It even orders the occasional butt-plug from on-line sex shops so that anyone tracking you will never suspect you're really just some saddo into making baskets!

    1. Allan George Dyer


      Luckily, the package of willow wands can be used for either activity...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm lost on this one..... So, what's doing the browsing? the phone? an App? something else? can Iphone users expect extra data usage due to this? Should they expect more spam since Apple now will decide what they are browsing while not browsing? Who get's the "click" money? Apple?

    I'm probably off in left field but.... I guess I'm not paranoid enough to worry. If I'm gonna look at pRon, I don't care who knows.

    Maybe someone at apple is looking at too much of it and is worrying it's gonna come back on them.....

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Basket weaving?

    Basket weaving, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean. Does she go? in and out of all those poles. Nods as good as a wink to blind wicker work donkey, know what I mean.

    No thanks, I'd rather the world thought I looked at porn.

  21. Wile E. Veteran

    How is that different?

    Couldn't the same effect be achieved using a shell script running wget?

    Put it under a fake user account, create a dummy email address on gmail, hotmail, yahoo or whatever then have it run at random times using a list of "acceptable" web sites.

    Whatever happened to "not obvious" in the patent requirements?

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Re: How is that different?

      Yup, in fact i wrote just such a script to amuse myself by polluting the stream when it looked like BT were going to roll out Phorms mitm attack hardware.

      Rather than browsing a list of acceptable sites it used acceptable topics instead, with logs so i could at least show it was a bot if necessary. IIRC correctly the User Agent was set to 'Phorm annoyer'. Default topics were knitting, sheep shearing and gardening.

      With a little thought Apples idea is incredibly obvious. randomize the time between requests as if someone's reading the page, or better base it on the size of the received data

  22. Keven E.

    Or more likely...

    they just want to own the patent for something that is/would (probably already) be(ing) used against them and their advertisers... to keep it out of the "legal" hands of consumers.

    Too late.

  23. Bilby

    In unrelated news... response to a recent report compiled by the Bureau of Statistics, the Prime Minister today announced that there will be a special budgetary provision this year of $2.6 Trillion for basket-weaving societies and related hobbies. "This grant is an essential part of our government's commitment to ensuring that this previously under-funded pastime receives the support it deserves, and that Australian Working Families demand", she said, "In stark contrast to the paucity of basket-weaving support provided by the previous coalition government. While this should in no way be seen as a cynical grab for votes from the large, but hitherto unknown, Australian basket-weaving community, I will point out that Mr Abbott has made no basket-weaving policy announcements at all in the past five years, and voters should understand that his party would instead waste this money on football, pubs and casinos - pastimes which our research shows to be highly unpopular with the Australian public".

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course if the analysis spots you're looking at porn And basket weaving...

    ...its going to lead to some surreal scenes in movies as they try to cater for this previously unknown market.

  25. Finko Bastawank

    Not a software patent

    Knowing Apple's outsourcing, the patent is probably not a piece of software at all, and is in fact warehouses full of small Chinese children aimlessly browsing wholesome websites for a bowl of rice a month.

    1. Dana W

      Re: Not a software patent

      as opposed to all the other tech companies keeping the jobs right at home.

      1. Thorne

        Re: Not a software patent

        "as opposed to all the other tech companies keeping the jobs right at home."

        Yeah they're using indian children working for a bowl of curry. Damn you Apple and your cheap chinese children

  26. croc

    Marketing 'Droids...

    Apple marketing 'droid... "If someone were to use 'bots to do some searching for inane stuff, that would throw off our marketing results."

    Apple techno 'droid... "I'll get right on it, Chief!"

  27. Steven Roper

    And Apple have got a bloody nerve

    going on about Big Brother when they ruined the whole IT world with their invention of the walled garden, we-tell-you-what-you-can-put-on-your-device mentality, and their whole fucking control-freak behaviour.

    But it fits their dictatorial aspect I suppose, to be seen "doing something" about Big Brother, maybe they think that intelligent people (as opposed to their fanboi pets) won't see them for what they really are.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    You are never alone with a clone.

    Apple probably patented it so that nobody else can use it against them or their advertisers.

    It would certainly be a pretty easy thing to script though.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just had a "Blade Runner" moment

    Just realised I am in fact autonomous agent software designed for just this purpose......Would you like to talk about basket weaving?

    (must not kill my creator, must not kill my creator......)

  30. wowfood

    Evil Clones?

    What if somebody gets information on these data clones, and uses it to create evil clones. Y'know "oh look, its one of those basket weaving clones"


    "oh look, now its googling kiddy porn, mwah hah hah"

    Seriously, I can see this happening.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Stupid and irresponsible beyond belief.

    If you run a web site, you'll know that you've got data caps. Not only that, but some, including me, use page hits to determine areas of interest and beef up posting on those topics. You might even use hit fingerprints to determine what web technologies people are using and then design your site templates accordingly.

    I had a few words to say to the UK library that wanted to archive the internet a while ago, along the lines of, I've got to pay for my bandwidth and if you start slurping all my content on a regular basis, you're going to cost me a small fortune and drive my statistics over a cliff. I'm not going to know who from what.

    I feel very sorry for that basket weaving site. They're going to have a hard time sorting out the needle in the straw.

    This is yet another corporation designing and doing things without thought to the innocent people they're affecting. If Apple do go forward with this and I start seeing shed loads of Safari hits on my sites then I'll be having a few words with them.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What if...

    ...the clone software cloned the clones and then started cloning clones of the clones. Would that be identity theft

    1. MikeyD85

      Re: What if...

      At some point, it'll all end in some Clone Wars...

  33. Dan 55 Silver badge

    I don't think it's that complicated

    Knowing Apple's puritan values in their App Store, it's just so little Johnny doesn't see naughty adverts while on Safari and Apple gets sued.

  34. Crisp

    How is this different from running a TOR exit node?

    With a TOR exit node you've got plausible deniability. Running cloneware software explicitly designed to clobber an investigation smacks of intent.

  35. druck Silver badge


    It doesn't matter how many clones you are running which aren't looking at porn, the one that is will still be logged.

  36. Len Goddard
    Thumb Up

    And after this is deployed, the entire internet grinds to a halt, swamped by clones arguing about basket weaving techniques, and the real people have to go back to telephones and paper mail.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is probably just an attempt to get such apps removed/banned from the App store. If Apple have the patent on this idea, then anyone trying to release an App to confuse marketing.tracking in the phones can now have the App legally removed.

    More advertising revenue to apple then?

  38. Mike Flugennock
    Thumb Down

    Stop me if I'm wrong, but...

    Granted, my degree is in graphic design, but i've used computers and networks extensively for over 25 years, and based on my own experience and my regular reading of The Reg, it looks to me as if Apple is basically trying to patent the Man In The Middle Attack.

    So, stop me if I'm wrong, but... injecting code that hijacks a user's profile and personal info and uses it to create bogus profiles and make purchases in the user's name -- isn't that what most of your more insidious malware does?

    This really creeps the hell out of me -- and I've been using Macs exclusively for over 25 years which, I guess, makes me a "fanboi" around here, but this is really nasty, creepy-assed shit... not to mention that I'm quite capable of polluting my own profile to monkeywrench trackers, thank you very much.

    Mind you, as I said, I'm not an IT professional, so I could be wrong, but, still... patented MITM attack? Am I right... or, not...?

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