A Brazilian prosecutor is urging Apple and Google to ban the anonymous gossip app Secret from mobile phones over concerns about the spread of cyber-bullying in the country.
Such a move would require Apple to activate its iPhone “kill switch” for the first time ever.
The kill switch is an officially unnamed mechanism that allows Apple to remotely delete things from your phone even after you have downloaded them from the App Store. Most people don’t even know that it exists.
Google also has a kill switch, but that has been used once before. Microsoft also has a kill switch on the small slice of the phone market it controls.
Despite some reports claiming that Judge Paulo Cesar de Carvalho of the Fifth Civil Court of Victoria has already signed an order forcing the tech giants to remotely wipe users’ phones, 9to5Mac reports that the ruling has not yet passed.
Public prosecutor Marcelo Zenkner is reportedly pushing for the removal of Secret (as well as Cryptic, the app’s Windows Phone client) due to a proliferation of bullying cases taking place in Brazil using anonymous gossip platforms.
Apple Insider reports that the prosecution’s case emerged after a marketing consultant discovered naked photographs of himself published on Secret, with text overlaid alleging that he is HIV positive. (We have no reason to believe the claims are true.)
If the ruling passes, Apple, Google and Microsoft will be fined R$20,000 (around $US8,888) for every day that the apps remain available to download in Brazil. (Apple has about $US159 billion in cash on its balance sheet, so the legal costs won’t faze it.) 9to5Mac reports that Secret has sent legal representatives to Brazil to investigate the situation, although the company itself is not the target of the civic action suit.
This isn’t the first time that Brazil has grappled with the legality of gossip apps. Lulu, a private social network for women that allows them to rate men as potential boyfriends, was taken offline in Brazil after facing a “massive backlash.” After viewing his 7.7 out of 10 rating on the app, law student Felippo de Almeida Scolari took legal action against the company. Under the Brazilian Federal Constitution, anonymous reviews are illegal, and Scolari sued Lulu for R$27,000 (around $US12,000).
The existence of Apple’s remote “kill switch” for apps was first discovered by an app development company in 2008. Since then, there has been no reported incident of Apple triggering the system in order to remotely delete an app. The system works by forcing iPhones to regularly contact a secure Apple website and check for a list of unauthorised apps. If the device has a blacklisted app installed, it’s deleted and removed from the phone.
Google also possesses a remote “kill switch” for Android apps, but unlike Apple, it has made use of the feature before. In 2010 the Android security team deleted two apps created by a security researcher after they “misrepresented their purpose in order to encourage user downloads.” Its kill switch is referred to by the company as the “Remote Application Removal Feature.”
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