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Apple’s new patent could be able to remotely stop your iPhone camera

Apple was awarded a patent this week for technology that could disable photography and video recording on iPhone cameras within a certain range.
Apple was awarded a patent this week for technology that could disable photography and video recording on iPhone cameras within a certain range. United States Patent and Trademark Office

Signs urging “no photography” are common at concerts, but a new patent awarded to Apple might finally provide a way to enforce bans on photography, at least temporarily.

The technology company was awarded a patent this week for a system that could use infrared signals from emitters to disable taking photos and videos on its ubiquitous iPhone. The system proposed in the patent also wouldn’t be limited to your iPhone camera — the patent’s technology could conceivably stop recording on any “electronic device with an image sensor,” so long as they’re within range.

The application, which was originally filed in 2009, includes specific situations where the technology might be useful, such as a concert or a show. One figure in the patent depicts a hypothetical use for the technology at a concert, where devices installed in the venue would be able to halt a user from taking photos of the musicians on the stage. (The figure helpfully displays an iPhone screen that shows the words “recording disabled.”)

Though not mentioned in the patent, such blocking technology could have other, more repressive implications. A blocking transmitter could also stop activists from freely recording police or government activity, or take photos or videos in public places where they have a legal right to snap away.

But the patent also suggests that the same infrared signals might be able to augment, rather than restrict, experiences. The signals emitted from the devices described in the patent could, for example, also contain encoded data to transmit to the phone in museums and retail stores, the authors of the patent state.

Another figure in the patent shows just such an application, with an “Aztec water jug,” and an iPhone screen that displays additional details about the provenance of the pottery piece and related audio and video content.

It’s unclear if or when Apple would implement the technology in the real world. But the patent gives Apple the freedom to move ahead with developing such devices in real life.

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