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Apple’s Patent Application Collects iPhone Thieves’ Fingerprints and Selfies

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The 5s is the best-selling iPhone in India, but Apple accounts for only 1% of the country's smartphone market share.Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

Soon enough, it could be a really bad idea to steal an iPhone or iPad.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday published a patent application filed by Apple describing a method for the company to capture both a thief’s picture, video, and fingerprints from the Touch ID home button, among other identifying data.

“The computing device may obtain biometric information and may store such biometric information,” Apple (AAPL) writes in its patent application. “Such biometric information may be one or more fingerprints, one or more images of a current user of the computing device, video of the current user, audio of the environment of the computing device, forensic interface use information, and so on. The computing device may then provide the stored biometric information for identification of one or more unauthorized users.”

Apple-tracking site AppleInsider earlier discovered the patent application.

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Device makers have for the last several years been trying to find ways to prevent smartphone or tablet theft and mitigate the possibility of data finding its way into the wrong person’s hands. Too often, thieves steal an iPhone or iPad and, if they have the know-how to reset it, can often use the device as their own. They can also sell the device to a third-party.

However, there have been instances in the past where thieves have incriminated themselves by snapping pictures of themselves from the devices. They’ve also found themselves tracked down by the true owners, who use a feature like my Find My iPhone from Apple, which locates a device’s position. In addition to location-tracking, Apple’s app also includes the ability to sound an alarm, lock the device, and erase content. Other smartphone manufacturers offer similar features for their own devices.

All of that makes Apple’s latest invention intriguing, if nothing else. In addition to stopping users from accessing content, Apple’s technology would seemingly capture their fingerprints through Touch ID, snap photos and videos, and allow owners to furnish that to law enforcement to capture the thief.

According to the patent filing, the “unauthorized user” could have his or her fingerprint captured from the Touch ID sensor without his or her knowledge and stored on the device. That can then be transmitted over a cellular or Wi-Fi network to the actual owner, who could send it off to police with the other data collected, like videos and photos. Apple says it could transmit the information through a “cloud data storage service,” ostensibly referring to its iCloud.com.

All of it, then, becomes evidence against the thief.

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It’s unknown at this point whether Apple would ever make the features available in its devices, and like other companies, it often files for patents on technologies that never come to fruition. But it certainly sounds like a neat way to make thieves think twice about stealing your iPhone the next time you leave it in plain sight.