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Communications Portables (Apple) Hardware Your Rights Online

Apple Disables Egyptian iPhones' GPS 278

Posted by timothy
from the just-extrapolate-a-bit dept.
floydman writes "Apparently the Egyptian government is paranoid about its community using GPS devices, to the degree that it demanded Apple remove any GPS functionality from its iPhone 3G. They claim that 'GPS functionality should be limited to military purposes.' Egyptian blogger Ahmed Gabr brought this issue up in another article, and talks about how this does not make sense, since Google maps and the like can be used. I also happen to know for a fact that most of the modern cars in Egypt have built-in GPS systems."
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Apple Disables Egyptian iPhones' GPS

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  • by RemoWilliams84 (1348761) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @09:50AM (#26046465)

    Can't they just look around and figure out which pyramids they are standing between and go from there?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by genner (694963)

      Can't they just look around and figure out which pyramids they are standing between and go from there?

      But they all look alike. This wouldn't be a problem if they had listened to my idea of bulding a square pyramid.

    • by Keith_Beef (166050) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @11:30AM (#26047729)

      Pyramid based triangulation...? No, that will never catch on.

      K.

    • by Xemu (50595)

      There's even a nice Qibla Finder [app-to-date.com] for iPhone which always will show the direction to mecka for your afternoon prayer.

  • Swell plan (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @09:59AM (#26046561)

    In a country that consists to a good deal of desert and other not too pleasant terrain where getting lost means dying it's a really, really good idea to disallow tools that allow you to find out where exactly you are.

    Is it me or is this already beyond stupid and paranoid? What "advantage" could a terrorist/communist/boogymanoftheweek gain from knowing where he is? I guess those people are

    a) knowledgeable enough of the area to know where they are.
    b) Usually not interested in blowing themselves sky high in the middle of nowhere and
    c) Not too picky of where they strike, as long as it causes enough people to get terrorized (hence their description).

    So I'm waiting for a really good explanation why a potentially life saving function should be turned of for "security" reasons. I know, "national security" means "whatever keeps the government in power" these days, but shouldn't we at least keep the pretence up that it's about keeping the people safe?

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @10:04AM (#26046627) Homepage

      grab your iphone.. fire up urban spoon...

      shake...

      Choices are sand, sand, sand...

      Hmmm.... I think we'll have sand today.

      • Re:Swell plan (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @10:11AM (#26046699)

        True, but let's imagine you have a car, a tank full of gas and are lost in the middle of some desert. You have enough fuel to reach anything within 100 miles but what is within 100 miles? More important, is there anything within 100 miles (hopefully you were clever enough to only use up to half your tank's contents...)?

        But let's imagine your car broke down and you're in the middle of the desert. Let's also assume you were smart enough to bring along a sat phone for emergencies (like this one). What do you want to prefer to tell a potential rescue team? "I'm in the middle of the Sahara, try to find me" or "I'm at xxxx'N, xxxx'E, come pick me up"?

        • by Smauler (915644)

          What do you want to prefer to tell a potential rescue team? "I'm in the middle of the Sahara, try to find me" or "I'm at xxxx'N, xxxx'E, come pick me up"?

          Well, it probably wouldn't matter anyway, since the rescue team probably wouldn't be able to figure out where they are, because satnav has been banned in Egypt for all but the military.

          Wait a minute...

        • Re:Swell plan (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Frosty Piss (770223) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @04:10PM (#26051517)

          True, but let's imagine you have a car, a tank full of gas and are lost in the middle of some desert....

          Full tank? Ask the guy at the station for directions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I think the answer is armed kids in knock-off Versace.

    • This CLEARLY means that since they removed the GPS functionality from the Iphone that no terrorist will have ANY access to a GPS. It's foolproof! After all... any GPS system can be used to... umm... well, it makes bombs go where you want and stuff! TERRORISTS ARE BAD!!!!111!

      • it makes bombs go where you want and stuff!

        So do suicide bombers. So, for the sake of humanity, outlaw humans!

    • Re:Swell plan (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Yvanhoe (564877) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @10:47AM (#26047149) Journal
      They don't fear terrorists, they fear rioters.

      GPS and GSM is the first thing countries like China cut off when a riot occur.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tabdelgawad (590061)

      I don't really know the actual explanation, and I certainly don't discount sheer stupidity when it comes to the actions of the Egyptian government, but I suspect it has something to do with those vast deserts you mention. I think there's a fair amount of cross-border smuggling of weapons/contraband at the Libyan and Sudanese borders, and a cheap/portable GPS device like the iPhone 3G could give smugglers a huge technology advantage (or eliminate a disadvantage) relative to the border patrols.

      Of course, smu

    • Re:Swell plan (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mikael (484) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @11:33AM (#26047785)

      Maybe the simplest of looters could find the coordinates of valuable archeological digs. Before GPS and Google maps, they would have needed maps, survey equipment and access to the journals. Now they could just surf the web and find the coordinates from a research paper.

    • Actually, the way it works with most people is that they use their GPS to get to where they are going (or at least part way). The battery then dies and so they can't get back. This is especially true of GPS built into a phone since (at least in my case) the GPS normally dies because I talk so much.

      It's probably much safer to force people to use a map and a compass. GPS should only be there for convenience and/or backup. I guess you've almost come up with about the only sensible argument why the Egyptian

    • I can think of a place that is even more featureless: The Pacific Ocean. I've been on the ocean in a sail boat and purposely have left the GPS off. It only takes a few hours of training for anyone to learn how to not get lost and actually to get to places, even on the ocean.

      Once in a class an instructor took us out at night in a good sized cruising sail boat when the Coast Guard small craft advisory in effect. He put a dut on the chart and asked "how long until we are there?" This was not some feat of s

  • by nycguy (892403) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @10:02AM (#26046597)
    Is this really about wanting to keep citizens from knowing where they are, or is it more about not wanting to have a programmable GPS-enabled device that could be used to detonate a bomb when it nears a specified location?

    If the above is the case, it's a pretty dumb approach, since a GPS-enabled iPhone could just be smuggled in. Either way, it would be interesting to know what the real motives behind this ban are.
    • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @10:07AM (#26046653)

      That sound like a more logic reason, but bluntly, it's not like building a GPS device is in any way rocket science or requires any kind of "monitored" hardware. Actually, the iPhone would be a rather poor choice for such a device, not only for its price. And it makes little sense to build such a bomb in the first place unless you plan to send it through FedEx or postal service.

      • by chrb (1083577) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @10:52AM (#26047215)

        There are other options. The comparison with car GPS is interesting - ok, they don't mind people navigating and mapping roads, since they are public anyway. But small GPS devices that look like mobile phones - could these be more of a security risk? It is possible to walk to many more locations than can be reached on the public highway. It is possible that they could be used as trigger devices, just like in the Madrid train bombings [wikipedia.org]. Consider that the phones are used as timers, and that one of the standard protocols in use in security sensitive areas now is to jam RF and cell phone frequencies to block this kind of trigger. It's not a huge leap to realise that a GPS device could be similarly linked, and would provide an accurate non-blockable trigger for a vehicle based bomb.

        It sounds as though Egypt bans or disables all personal GPS devices. I guess it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that a government is concerned about the military implications - remember that the United States only turned off Selective Availability [wikipedia.org] 8 years ago, and this was only after they developed new technology to actively jam GPS signals in targetted regions. And don't forget the political fallout [allacademic.com] after the EU decided to implement the Galileo M-code overlay [findarticles.com] inside the same frequency band as the US military GPS in order to ensure that there was no way to block one without blocking the other. GPS technology has traditionally been militarily and politically sensitive, but at the same time we are now seeing the rise of a new world where most human are going to have cell phones and GPS devices. This is inevitably going to cause some social conflict as societies adjust to the new reality.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      It's far easier to do that with nokia phones that are plentiful and easy to hack or [GASP] a easy to get and ready to hack GPS, than a freaking iphone.

      It's called very uneducated diplomats and "leaders" freaking out over nothing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by imroy (755)
      • GPS module [sparkfun.com] - US$60
      • Microcontroller board [sparkfun.com] - US$20
      • Coding - free
      • A GPS bomb trigger for a fraction of the price of an iPhone? priceless

      Note, I'm not affiliated with SparkFun in any way. I'm also not condoning terrorist action, just pointing out how easy it is nowadays with cheap and easy access to the necessary technology.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      If the above is the case, it's a pretty dumb approach, since a GPS-enabled iPhone could just be smuggled in.

      Besides, there's no way Apple would allow that software into the app store.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by cizoozic (1196001)

        Besides, there's no way Apple would allow that software into the app store.

        Why, does Apple already offer an official iBomb app?

    • by Thaelon (250687)

      Your first candidate for a motive should always be simple stupidity - which isn't really a motive, I guess. But it's correct the most often.

    • Maybe they should have Apple remove the BlowUpNow! app from the iTunes Store.
  • I don't get it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @10:03AM (#26046609) Homepage

    Wouldn't most governments generally prefer that their citizens be trackable? I can't imagine the Egyptian government is somehow a beacon of light in the world of internal spying, so what gives?

    • by db32 (862117)
      You do understand that GPS can't track you right? You just use a fancy little satellite reciever to triangulate your location here on planet earth by what GPS satellites your device can "hear" at any given moment. It is a one way deal, it doesn't broadcast.

      I mean really, the only "tracking" done by GPS is if said GPS enabled device has a secondary connection in it to relay that information back somewhere. In the case of the iPhone, yes, it can send GPS data back to the world somewhere via its cellular
  • Military Use (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @10:03AM (#26046621) Journal
    Do they understand that GPS is currently intended for civilian use? The United States, being the owner of the system, can shut it off at any time. One of the primary reasons they will shut it off is in the case of foreign military use.
  • by VShael (62735) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @10:07AM (#26046657) Journal

    and they're afraid to say what it is that they're afraid of.

    Interesting.

    I'm sure it has something to do with the Pyramids and geo-caching. :)

  • Given that OpenStreetMap Cairo [openstreetmap.org] looks pretty complete I'm willing to bet that there are plenty of GPS devices already out there.

    It's interesting to watch the trickle down effect of technology and grassroots efforts to harness it, coming fact to face with traditional government regulation, such as amateur cartography being illegal in Russia [lwn.net]. I guess personal GPS devices and the internet are pretty subversive.

  • I was on vacation in Sharm el-Sheikh last April, and wandered around like a stupid tourist with a Bluetooth GPS and a Nokia N800 around my neck. Nobody seemed to care. We even went through a military checkpoint.

    Um, was I doing something illegal?

    • by swb (14022)

      Only if you didn't spend a couple of grand in hard currency and you gave material support to the Muslim Brotherhood.

      Sharm el-Sheikh is the Sun City of Egypt.

  • by floydman (179924) <floydman@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @10:54AM (#26047227)

    Is that this is due to "leadership minds'" ignorance of the current state of technology. Someone thinks that by doing this, he has acclaimed a certain power to himself only (the government) in this case.

    Is he is totally unaware, that most phones (HTC, I-mate, some nokia's) have GPS's in them, and if not, it didn't cross his mind that a simple wifi connection (quiet common in cairo, lived there for a couple of years) would be more than enough to act as a GPS look alike.

    Dinosaurs in control if you ask me.

    Someone mentioned above that he was walking around with a bluetooth GPS device, well you are not the only one, I was for a couple of years, a lot of other people I know also did.

    The question is, how come Apple obliged...thats what does not make a lot of sense to me.

  • So where's the outrage at Apple for caving to a foreign, repressive government's wishes to hinder the freedom of the country's citizens? I guess they never claimed they'd do no evil. Pretty lame though.
  • by Detritus (11846)
    Maps have many military applications, as does GPS location data. In some countries, it may be difficult or impossible for ordinary civilians to get accurate or complete maps. If you want to drop an artillery shell or ICBM warhead on a target, you need to know where the target is. A civilian (spy) with a GPS receiver can collect useful intelligence on the locations of sensitive installations. Some countries are very touchy about people taking unauthorized photographs of military installations and hardware. S
  • For now. Expect that to be restricted.

  • Wake me when the egyptian population decides to stand up against their wacky leaders.

    "Wahhhh! My government is corrupt and tyrannical!"

    OK, do something about it!

  • Will they be allowing GPS enabled phones into the country by travelers? If they don't this will be a huge problem for people traveling to Egypt If they do allow travelers to bring their phones, doesn't that circumvent the whole issue. What about travelers that were planning on using GPS to help them find attractions, etc. Can't have those either.

  • The Egyptian Government does not want to consciously allow any foreign body to have greater knowledge on the movements of its citizens than the Egyptian Government itself has.

    Granted, there are other devices currently deployed in Egypt that have GPS technology , so either a) the Egyptian government is completely ignorant of these devices (unlikely) or b) it is much more worried about the potential popularity of the iPhone (more likely). A previous poster mentioned that there are "very few cars in Egypt".
    • by floydman (179924)

      I was also thinking along the lines of :

      we can let you release the iPhone with GPS if you let us charge you ... $ching ching$
      or maybe someone in a high position who saw an opportunity for some under table money (would not be surprised to hear something along these lines in Egypt)

  • Having just come back from there, I was suprised at the lack of GPS devices in cars etc. Aside from the size of the gap between the rich and poor, GPS devices are banned from cars because of questions over their intelligence.

    If you have seen Cairo, having a GPS doesn't mean you can drive on the roads or even go in the right direction, having a death wish or a lot of faith in God / Allah does.

  • Tut. Tut. Tut.

    Whose our sun god?
    Ra! Ra! Ra!

    Thank you, I'll be here all week.

  • I am sorry I am late for the meeting, I have an iPhone, I am lost!

That does not compute.

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