Software // Enterprise Applications
01:42 PM
Connect Directly

Steve Jobs Wants To End DRM, But Apple Develops New Access Control Technology

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has published a new Apple patent application for securing and controlling access to digital data.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs may be calling for an end to digital-rights management (DRM), but engineers at his company continue to develop data security technology.

On Thursday, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a new Apple patent application titled "Securing and controlling access to digital data," which describes how motion tracked by an input device other than a keyboard -- say, an iPhone touch pad -- can be used to emulate a combination lock to secure digital data.

While this isn't DRM, strictly speaking, the patent application nonetheless contemplates the technology's use as a means of access control, which is, after all, the primary function of DRM.

"With ever increasing popularity and use of digital data, securing digital data has become a major concern," the patent application states. "Accordingly, security techniques for securing digital media would be highly useful and valuable to various entities that typically have procured digital assets at a significant cost. These entities, for example, range from an individual who has purchased a single digital item (e.g., a song or a picture) to a corporation that has spent millions of dollars to store data crucial to operation of the corporation (e.g., medical records, financial accounts) in a digital form."

Moreover, other Apple patent applications have more explicitly detailed DRM-related research. Apple's "Secure software updates" patent application, for example, describes a method to update DRM software.

Not that there's anything wrong with it. Data access controls have their uses -- future iPhone owners will no doubt welcome having their data protected if they lose the device.

The issue becomes complicated when those who would apply access controls deny the rights of others. There is in fact a distinction between technologically enforced copy restrictions and the rights granted under copyright law. Saying something is a "right" doesn't make it so.

And it's here that Jobs' call to end DRM rings hollow. Apple has said third-party developers won't have access to its iPhone. The company's operating system only runs on Apple hardware. Calling for the music industry to open up while Apple retains control over its closed assets doesn't quite seem like fair play.

The irony here is that while Apple's new research into gesture-based access won't do anything to eliminate DRM, it might just fulfill Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' longstanding prediction that passwords are on their way out.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Building A Mobile Business Mindset
Among 688 respondents, 46% have deployed mobile apps, with an additional 24% planning to in the next year. Soon all apps will look like mobile apps and it's past time for those with no plans to get cracking.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Top IT Trends to Watch in Financial Services
IT pros at banks, investment houses, insurance companies, and other financial services organizations are focused on a range of issues, from peer-to-peer lending to cybersecurity to performance, agility, and compliance. It all matters.
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on for the week of June 19, 2016. We'll be talking with the editors and correspondents who brought you the top stories of the week to get the "story behind the story."
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.