Apple has made it a point to revolutionize its security for quite some time across all of its many varying devices. While some of the company’s products can have unintended security risks, ie Apple AirTags (of which saw various incidents of stalking), nobody really thinks of headphones as a potential data breach point.
However, one new Apple AirPods patent vies to amend these potential security risks by implementing a sophisticated verification platform that uses the wearer’s ear canal as biometric identification. The concept is still very much in the early phases of design and development, but its use case risks are incredibly prevalent.
Apple’s reasoning behind this new patent application is stated quite plainly in the description of the document itself:
“Conventional systems are generally lacking with respect to user identification using headphones. In particular, traditional systems are not well equipped to determine whether the user wearing a respective set of headphones is an authorized user of a corresponding device, such as a mobile phone.”
(Photo : Apple)
In this scenario, Apple considers the AirPods product as an imminent security flaw in that upon being acquired, they can indirectly allow access to user’s data via Siri and other means. It opens a doorway of potentialities that could see a consumer’s sensitive data easily stolen or breached in some capacity, and Apple only lists a phone in this instance. What if a user has their Apple MacBook or other PC connected to the Bluetooth headphones?
In the patent, the company highlights “providing voice commands to the device” as a potential risk factor, such as in the case of receiving a text, “an audible representation of the message may be provided to the user via the headphones.” The patent goes on to elaborate that “improved systems for user identification using headphones is desired.”
Then, the question is how will Apple even implement such biometric technology into future AirPods, and how much will this inevitably cost the consumer? Apple posits the potential use of sonar as a way to measure the user’s shape of their ear interior.
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“For example, various characteristics of the user’s ear provide an echo of the ultrasonic signal which is unique to the user. Variations in the user’s ear canal may cause the ultrasonic signal to reflect off the surface and generate an echo heaving a signature that is associated with the user.”
If implemented correctly, this would give consumers the ability to rest easy if they lose their AirPods in any way, disabling unwanted wearers from accessing their valuable information and devices’ interface overall.
Apple is also considering other identification procedures for the AirPods that will utilize calculated data sent from the user’s Apple Watch or iPhone. This method would specifically analyze your pace or stride as a baseline of confirming your identification before allowing access to the breadth of the device.
These are all incredibly interesting concepts for Apple to be considering and something that may not be at the forefront of a consumer’s mind when purchasing Apple AirPods. There is no specific date as to when Apple will inevitably push out AirPods that utilize such security, as some patents don’t even reach the market, but at least the company is thinking outside of the box and is maintaining vigilance of evolving cybersecurity risks.
We have seen countless iterations of security improvements or delineations made by Apple over the years for use in varying product designs. These include mainly thumbprint readings available on iPhones and iPads, as well as face recognition, which itself can now scarily be bypassed via enhanced deep fake software. Still, it seems Apple is ensuring its consumers about its attention to amending these security risks and how best to implement them across its many products.
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