Turn your iPhone into a “Cartel-o-Phone”

Well it was just a matter of time before somebody figured this one out.  Recently an iPhone developer created an application known as “Drug Lords,” a program that would enable both drug-dealers and users to find one another in real time and space, thanks to the mobile phone’s built-in GPS chip.  Hats off to the drug dealers who are on the cutting edge of two of the very latest trends in technology according to Gartner Research: mobile computing and location-based services.

The application allows drug dealers to post prices for narcotics such as cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana.  A convenient built-in calculator automatically determines the prices in gram increments.  Prices can be set by location, so that the price offered in Bogota is cheaper than than in New York or Paris.  Moreover, the dealer’s prices are visible to their potential clients from within the app and can be adjusted in real-time in response to supply and demand.

Upon launching the app, drug-users can graphically view the location of all the nearest drug dealers on a lovely Google map and dealer and client can each navigate to each other to complete the buy.  The app even allows for price comparisons between dealers and prices can be further negotiated by exchanging private messages between pusher and purchaser.

The app even has an efficient reputation management system built-in so that clients can provide feedback on their dealers, allowing for comparison of quality and service.  “1 star only for Fast Freddy—that powder he sold me was baking powder.  There goes $100 down the drain!  Avoid Freddy at all costs—he’s a cheat.” What an efficient marketplace!

So why on earth would Apple allow such an app to be sold in iTunes?  Turns out, they did not.  Apple rejected the application multiple times noting that “anything that involved the trafficking of illegal commodities would not pass the bar or be accepted for sale.”  The app developer, A-Steriods, thus far has not been able to sell “DrugLords” via iTunes.

A-Steriods claims that DrugLords was never intended as an actual drug dealing application, but rather was meant only as a game.  A-Steroids maintains that DrugLords was an example of a new class of social gaming known as an LBMORPG (location-based multiplayer online role playing game).

Since all the features described above actually worked as advertised, DrugLords could have been used for actual narco sales.  A-Steroids insisted, however, that  the app was purely a role playing game in which players competed to become the most successful drug dealer by selling the greatest amount of “virtual” narcotics.

Not one to give up easily, A-Steroids repeatedly submitted DrugLords to the iTunes store and was repeatedly rejected.  Ultimately, they rebranded the game as “Underworld: Sweet Deal.”  While all the basic features and objectives of “DrugLords” remained in tact, cocaine, heroine and marijuana were replaced by another form of addiction: sugar.

Thus DrugWars morphed into Underworld and “crack” and “weed” became “donuts” and “lollipops.” Since street drugs are often referred to by their slang names such as horse, candy and chips, does the change really make any difference?  In Underworld, we see pretty cartoon pictures of menacing mob-like “chefs” delivering “donuts” instead of crack.  Of course Underworld could still be used for actual drug-dealing if for example it was agreed and known that a lollipop was a hit of ecstasy.  Name substitution is common practice in the narco trade:  after all, how many crack addicts ask their dealer for cocaine hydrochloride or benzoylmethyl ecgonine?

Many have argued that crime-related games, such as Grand Theft Auto are “bad,” especially for children.  I am not particularly concerned about gaming and the virtual fantasy versions of “cops and robbers” many played as kids.  What is of concern, however, is the potential creation of a new form of mobile, location-based criminality in the form of an iPhone application.  While A-Steroids’ intention in creating DrugLords may have actually been for gaming purposes, the application itself could have real-world criminal benefit.

In our next article, we will address what an actual dedicated location-based crime app might look like, how law enforcement could use such an app for investigative purposes and how criminals will circumvent iTunes store in the future to avoid the problems faced by the developers of DrugLords.

A video demonstration of DrugLords can be seen here: