“Please, no flash photography.”
Polite requests like this can be found in museums all over the world, but they generally don’t dissuade people from taking photos of whatever they feel like. The same goes for concerts, movie theaters and other places where people routinely ignore filming restrictions. A new patent from Apple may hinder that rebellious streak—on phones at least.
The patent, awarded to Apple today and first spotted by Patently Apple, outlines a system which would allow venues to use an infrared emitter to remotely disable the camera function on smartphones. According to the patent, infrared beams could be picked up by the camera, and interpreted by the smartphone as a command to block the user from taking any photos or videos of whatever they’re seeing.
Many musicians and performers have banned cellphones from their shows, either because they want their audiences to actually pay attention to them, or because they don’t want the free footage circulating around the web. Despite this, images still manage to leak out. Prince’s last concert before he passed away in April was supposed to be cellphone-free—it apparently wasn’t. If Apple’s patent is introduced into iPhone software, and venues put infrared emitters around their stage, leaks like this could potentially stop happening.
The patent also outlines ways that infrared blasters could actually improve someone’s experience at a venue. For example, the 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.
But the patent also raises questions about the sort of power that this technology would be handing over to people with more nefarious intentions. Its application might help police limit smartphone filming of acts of brutality, or help a government shut off filming in certain locations.
Right now, there’s no guarantee that Apple intends to put this technology into any of its software—Apple doesn’t act on many of the thousands of patents it files each year—and the company wasn’t immediately available to comment on its plans for the patent.
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. But who knows, if it does intend to introduce this feature to future operating systems, sales of camcorders, or even GoPros, could get a much-needed boost, as people try to circumvent the prohibitive software.