Apple Moves One Step Closer Toward Location-Based Camera Disabling

In June of last year, we reported on an unsettling patent filed by Apple that would allow certain infrared signals to remotely disable the camera on iPhones. It showed the potential downsides of bringing cameras into the world of wireless connectivity, which appears to be the next big thing in the camera industry. Now, a newly published patent is rekindling the fears of those who don’t want “Big Brother” controlling their devices.

U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902, published on Tuesday, is titled, “Apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device.”

Here’s the short description:

Apparatus and methods for changing one or more functional or operational aspects of a wireless device, such as upon the occurrence of a certain event. In one embodiment, the event comprises detecting that the wireless device is within range of one or more other devices. In another variant, the event comprises the wireless device associating with a certain access point. In this manner, various aspects of device functionality may be enabled or restricted (device “policies”). This policy enforcement capability is useful for a variety of reasons, including for example to disable noise and/or light emanating from wireless devices (such as at a movie theater), for preventing wireless devices from communicating with other wireless devices (such as in academic settings), and for forcing certain electronic devices to enter “sleep mode” when entering a sensitive area.

If this type of technology became widely adopted and baked into cameras, photography could be prevented by simply setting a “geofence” around a particular location, whether it’s a movie theater, celebrity hangout spot, protest site, or the top secret rooms at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California.

Companies often file patents for all kinds of random technologies that never end up seeing the light of day, so you shouldn’t be too concerned about this latest document. It’s just a warning of what the future could potentially hold.

(via AppleInsider)

Image credit: iPhone concert by bareform

  • Samcornwell

    As an iPhone user since the first model, I will finally be pushed to drop the brand and learn something new if this technology gets implemented.

  • Henri

    I am sure all police officers will look forward to this technology become portable so that they can prevent people record their misconduct and unlawful treatment to citizens by using their cell phones.

  • Mike Philippens™

    Won’t airplane mode help to circumvent this new and improved Apple prison? Or else some aluminum foil to disable radio signals. Surely, there will be special cases that prevent radio signals coming through, thus blocking GPS and 3G signals.
    Another reason not to buy Apple products. Believe me, they’re worse than Microsoft ever was, as far as being the Evil Empire goes. Terrible.

    Glad I decided I never wanted into that Apple Prison. I want to decide for myself what I do with my device. It’s impossible even for the greatest group of eggheads to decide that for me. Who wants in, please do, but I want to stay as far from it as possible.

    (before Apple fanboys say I never worked with the stuff: I owned an iPad (gift from my boss) and I gave it away, because I hate the prison I was in. I still own an old fashioned iPod which is permanently in my car as a jukebox. This was also a present. I like the music on it, but hate the prison of Apple Lossless they put me in.)

  • Joakim

    My thoughts exactly: Airplane mode. Problem solved.

  • t_linn

    I can see the attractiveness of this tech for certain constituencies but I don’t see the benefit of it for a device seller like Apple. They would be making their products less attractive to consumers. Perhaps they just want to control the technology. Perhaps the revenue from this technology would outstrip the affect on device sales.

    Here’s hoping that the electronics industry is just as successful in settling on a standard for this tech as they are for every other one.

  • t_linn

    I’m no Apple fanboy, Mike, but if you’re a creative there are many useful apps for iOS that just aren’t available for other platforms. Add to that the podcast ecosystem they’ve created and it is not so easy to dump them for an alternative. They’re well positioned in this respect.

  • opiapr

    Just becaouse there is a pantent do not mean apple wants to deploy this. It may even be a preventive move.

  • Stev™

    The “no” sign in your illustration is wrong. The line should go from upper left to lower right, like a backslash. Look at any “no”-type traffic sign.

  • RodgerO

    Non cellular point and shoot companies, you have found your new market….

  • John Garner

    This patent, unless it gets a lot more specific about where the control lies (and not with the device’s owner/user), already has a tonne of prior art in the form of smartphone apps for many OS’s (at least Symbian, Series 40, probably Android too) that can change the phone’s behaviour and disable/enable functionality by location from GPS or the cell mast/wifi signal id (therefore location, after a lookup).

  • John Garner

    Still many many many thousands of high quality podcasts that don’t require an apple product to subscribe and listen to, via any number of apps for PCs, phones (gPodder being my fave) and the freely published rss podcast feeds. Several indexing/review websites for them too.

  • Matt

    As an anti-mobile tech guy who writes software, I have to laugh at the irony that all the ‘free your creativity!’ cameras will have less freedom than an OM-2.

  • Michael Zhang

    Ah, interesting. Looked it up and you’re right… Didn’t know that.

    Oh well :-)

  • scottdon

    Not happy about this. There are many places that forbid unsanctioned picture taking (Olympics is great current example) and will confiscate devices if they see you taking photos. While a case could be made for this feature in those circumstances, there is just too much potential for abuse. Governments, police, or even tight-ass event coordinators could flip a switch and shut down photos when it is in the public interest to have photos taken. I could see Apple developing this in order to sell in countries like China, but the chance it could leak to the free world is just too great. Stop it now, or the 1984 commercial will come to life and Apple will be the oppressor not the liberator.

  • Jason Baldwin

    Unless the infrared receiver of the phone/camera is placed around the perimeter of the lens it could be covered to block a disabling signal. Infrared is dependent on line of sight, just like a tv remote, so it would not be a good choice for such a system.

  • Ian Ludwig

    First and foremost I would like to play the devil’s advocate

    Bottom Line -> When you go to events, you agree to the
    terms and conditions, this is not censorship. If you don’t like it, don’t
    support it. Don’t cry when they change their rules to better fit the times. These
    rules quite often include such things as prohibiting the use of cameras, use of
    cameras with detachable lenses…and so on.
    It used to be fairly straight forward to enforce this policy at events
    but times have changed because with practically everyone carrying cell phones
    that are almost as effective as a point and shoot they simply cannot anymore.

    Second, I do believe that the use of this technology for
    censorship by our Local, State or Federal is wrong and hopefully we don’t get
    to that point (I rarely wear my tinfoil hat but I do have one made just in

  • Paulo Albuquerque

    If Apple does ship this technology they will baking into their products features certain interest groups want and their customers (the ones paying) don’t want. Doesn’t make any sense, but maybe it’s just me.

    On a side note, what’s with this connected cameras bull#$&%? My phone already has data connectivity, why can’t my camera just talk to my phone? Humm yeah, I forgot, this way somebody can sell you one more data plan…

  • Matthew Rakola

    Just a thought. What if they patented this technology so nobody else could? Perhaps they have no intention of implementing it but rather are taking a defensive stance. I’m certainly not saying this is the case- consider it a thought exercise.

  • Alan Dove

    You should start a campaign about that – there are lots of incorrect “no” signs used in graphics. Your logo should be an incorrect “no” sign with a correct “no” sign around it. Good luck.

  • kris redwood

    Now this is a concept worth inspection. Apple following the “motto” of Google and “Doing Good” in a preventative fashion…hmm, sounds like a good conversation topic. Anyone else get the sense that Apple would go through this process in the hopes of furthering anti-censorship?

  • Michael Zhang

    Oh SHOOT! Then it would become the old X-Men logo!!

  • funkknight

    reminds me of the sonar device in “The Dark Knight”.

  • Collins

    Might be a good reason to bring out that Film Camera again if this ever gets implemented.

    (Future thinking… Wouldn’t want say government agents to stop all cameras where they are patrolling so they don’t get caught doing possibly bad things)

    Your Geofence can’t stop our Analog Film !!!

  • derekdj

    It’s one thing to patent the idea it’s another to implement it.

    Apple is just responding to something the content industry has been crying for years now. They’re under this delusion that cellphone recording erodes their ability to sell tickets, CDs and DVDs.

    There’s just too many practical, ethical and legal issues around this idea to even see it implemented commercially in the near future. You saw how quickly Apple ditched Fair Play DRM in iTunes. If Apple actually does make it available it will be the day they take a big step in their own decline.


    which is why i would use a film camera. :)

  • Richard

    What happens if you put your phone in Airplane mode?

  • Radu Dumitrescu

    I’m pretty sure that by disabling location settings for the camera app or some other newly created setting for this exact case will solved the issue.

    Apple have been pretty OK with restrictions so far.

  • Luiz Fellipe Carneiro

    I was about to post this :)

  • gril

    i don’t want to raise much hope on this, but if it would be true this would restore some hope in humanity

  • john hamm

    shoot film.

  • gregorylent

    government control

  • avbeast

    Here’s a thought- don’t buy their phone…

  • avbeast

    How is Google “doing good” by acquiescing to the Chinese government? Please…

  • Peter Roscoe

    I wouldn’t hold my breath…

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    May I be a bit brave, perhaps, and just go on and call this corporate fascism? This is an awful concept in so many different ways, there’s nothing right about it at all.

  • Tomi Tarkin

    Apple’s way too far in being an oppressor already, so there wouldn’t be that much change of that status. The Apple 1984 ad was clever propaganda, that’s all ;)

  • Tomi Tarkin

    Terrible news! We’ll eventually end up in a situation that you are only allowed to take pictures at your own private premises because under the anti-terror laws everything in public is soon considered as safety sensitive, or within some instance’s copyright interests thus restricted.. We’re living Orwellian 1984 dystopia already and it’s gradually getting worse all the time! Abandon all your devices that you’re are not allowed to master yourself, or are otherwise automatically restricted by someone else. That’s the only way to show who’s the boss, which in free democracy should be you, not global corporations!

  • ssreddy samba

    Apple is dead.

  • Steve Jobs


  • Monkey

    I think this police state bullshit can have a bowl of dick the government and company’s need to step out of our fvcking lives

  • Chris Henley

    Apple stopping people from using a device.they own? Why is this not surprising

  • Bua

    I usually respect these rules for no-photos etc. If this tech is brought on, I will go out of my way to break these rules and boycott all locations and devices which support this.

  • Johnny Gator

    You gotta remember, Apple is filling this patent for Apple phones. If you can’t shoot it with an Apple phone camera you can buy a competitor’s phone/camera and still use it. The device or program most likely has to be embedded in the phone so, if they were doing this to force censorship, you could always buy another camera/phone from an Apple competitor, which would kind of go against marketing and sales. It can be a good idea…like when you’re at a concert and 5,000 people are blocking your live view of a show to record a crappy video on their cell phones…or to combat movie piracy, etc. But, again, if you didn’t like where they were using the program, buy the rival’s phone instead. It’s just a patent. Apple is covering their bases, so to speak. Ask Samsung how that touch screen patent affected them…

  • Tom Sullivan

    Apple giving me yet another reason not to buy any of their products.

  • ratu

    just thinking of the last time a guy in the movie theater pulled out his phone to write on facebook during the film.. at least one annoyance less ;)

  • leila azul

    … why the hell are you all criticizing apple?

    want to take a photo? GET AN ANALOG CAMERA! or disable your wi-fi and 3G.
    and location services.

    complaints, complaints, complaints…

    or am I missing the point here?

  • gabbel

    I would not be surprised if they remove the regular camara app and replace it with a paid app, where you have to buy credits to make your camera work again.

  • FrillArtist

    Simple. Don’t buy the phone. Vote with your wallets.

  • FrillArtist

    The best solution is not to even buy the phone in the first place.

  • Donn Felker

    Just another reason to go Android.