Apple CEO Steve Jobs has confirmed that the iPhone 3G has a kill switch that can remotely remove software from the devices.
Jobs told The Wall Street Journal that Apple needs the capability in case it inadvertently allows a malicious program -- such as an application that steals user's personal data -- to be distributed to iPhones through its App Store.
"Hopefully we never have to pull that lever, but we would be irresponsible not to have a lever like that to pull," Jobs said.
Switch Not Used
Jobs' statement reveals Apple hasn't used the kill switch yet, but the company did remove an application from the App Store last week.
Apple removed the $999 "I Am Rich" application, which had the sole purpose of showing people the owner has money. The program creates a red icon that sits on the iPhone deck with a the words "I Am Rich" underneath. After the user activates the application, it glows on the handset like a ruby.
Apple initially approved the application, which bumps up against the pricing limit for applications sold on its App Store. The company was not immediately available for comment on why it decided to pull the plug.
But the real controversy started when Jonathan Zdziarski, author of the books iPhone Open Application Development and iPhone Forensics Manual, discovered a URL buried in Apple's firmware. That URL links to a file dubbed "unauthorizedApps" where malicious or simply bad apps might go once they disappear from the App Store.
According to Zdziarski, I Am Rich isn't the only app to disappear. BoxOffice (renamed to Now Playing) and NullRiver's NetShare were also removed. But removing the applications from the App Store and removing them from a consumer's iPhone are two different issues.
"The kill switch is a very controlling gesture. I am not sure why Apple didn't disclose it up front as simply a security measure," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis. "Consumers will accept an awful lot if you let them know what they are accepting."
What Else is Apple Hiding?
In the past, Jobs has said he wants to be careful not to allow applications to bring down the network. Greengart doesn't see that as a major threat, especially since Apple is approving the applications.
However, Greengart said he's less concerned with the "heavy-handed and Big Brotherish" kill switch than the fact that Apple didn't disclose it in the first place. As far as he knows, no other mobile phone has a kill-switch capability.
"To my way of thinking, the issue is that you don't really know what your phone might be doing or not be doing," Greengart said. "I am not 100 percent sure what the capability is or is not. That is the problem. What is the capability? When might they use it? When wouldn't they use it? Is there anything else Apple is not disclosing?"