Apple Patents Technology to Disable Cellphone Photos/Video

A new Apple patent, spotted on Patently Apple, will enable venues from museums to concert arenas to enforce their often-flouted rules against photography. The patent describes a system whereby a venue can use an infrared emitter to remotely block the camera function on smartphones. The smartphone interprets the infrared beams as a command to block photos and videos. Musicians who routinely — and fruitlessly — ban cellphone photography at their concerts will likely welcome the technology.

According to Quartz, one example of this problem is Prince’s last concert before his death. The concert was advertised as cellphone-free, yet a lot of footage still made it to the Web. Apple’s new patent could, in principle at least, put an end to this kind of leakage.

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The patent is not just about stopping bad behavior, but also describes some positive uses: the infrared beams “could be used to send information to museum-goers by pointing a smartphone camera at a blaster placed next to a piece of art.” Quartz wonders, however, if the technology could also be used by people with “more nefarious intentions,” such as helping “police limit smartphone filming of acts of brutality, or help a government shut off filming in certain locations.”

Apple files thousands of patents every year, so there is no way of knowing if the company plans to integrate the technology into any of its tools. Although no Apple spokesperson commented, Quartz notes that, “given the company’s rigid support of personal privacy when it comes to police requests to break into users’ devices, it’s possible that Apple just patented the technology so that no one else will use it.”

And, if the company does add the technology to its operating systems, users can still buy cameras.