Apple granted patent for location-based camera phone disabling

Last week I was frustrated in my attempt to take a screen grab of a frame from the cartoon Gravity Falls, which I was playing in iTunes on my Mac. The screen grab image showed the player window as gray-and-white checkerboard. Next, I downloaded a 3rd party screen grab application, and it gave me the same result. I ended up taking a photo of the iMac's display with my camera. (The photo is in this post -- it's the one with the cartoony occult symbols). Thanks to Apple's bullshit deal with the studios, the image has crappy video artifacts in it.

On Tuesday, Apple was granted a patent that could prevent photos and videos from being taken in particular locations. Other restrictions include forcing the camera to go to sleep so it cann't be used at all:

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.

I imagine movie theaters would be the first to use this remote disabling feature (if Apple ever decides to move ahead with this technology; just because they have a patent doesn't mean they'll use it). The paranoid side of me imagines governments using it to prevent citizens from communicating with each other or taking video during protests.

PetaPixel: Apple Moves One Step Closer Toward Location-Based Camera Disabling (Via Matt Richardson)


  1. “I imagine movie theaters would be the first to use this remote disabling feature”
    No, I would put my bet on the PoPo to use this feature first. 

      1. cell phone jammer would need to block the video signal (light) somehow. Just jamming the cell phone signal only blocks the phone from communicating with the tower. 

        However, I guess that would still work on the apple devices with this feature, since the phone wouldn’t know where it was at… if it is in an ok area to take photos or videos. All other phones, or non phone cameras, without this “feature” wouldn’t be affected.

        1. You’ve missed the point.  The patent describes a means to disable device functionality based on location as determined by, for example, connecting to a certain wifi access point. So, Apple would enforce a device policy from the MPAA/theatre, or police, or defence contractor, or gummint, on your phone to TURN OFF your camera so you can’t use it.  And they could turn off any other damn thing they like because, after all, it’s not your phone – you only pay to use it. Or turn on your microphone to eavesdrop on your conversation.  Or turn on your GPS to broadcast your location to the cops since your location is obviously a location based trigger for enabling/disabling features. This is the natural outcome of the thesis in C. Doctorow’s “The Coming Civil War Over General Purpose Computing”.

          1. Sure, I get it, and it is total BS. 

            I’m just wondering how the technology would actually work.

          2. babVU98i explained how it will work. And the point is that other cameras don’t matter as much in a global sense. The iPhone is what people have with them. The most popular camera used on flickr is an iPhone. The second most popular is another variety of iPhone.

          3. So in order for us all to be screwed, makers of Android phones would have to license this patent, which seems unlikely, and then they’d have to be able to prevent us running modded firmware.

            Just another reason not to buy Apple, innit?

  2. Hey, this could lead to a renaissance of film-based photography! Can’t remotely disable a non-electronic camera…

    1.  Depending on the effect of the recent samsung/apple case, since apple has a patent, this may never get implemented on android. Unless apple licenses this tech, possibly under pressure from big bro.

      I don’t think it takes much paranoia to imagine govt.s using this to prevent citizen journalists from reporting protests and/or abuse of law enforcement powers

      1. Nick, sad to say, but the journalists are already restricted.  No pics from two wars, for instance….only the ones where it generates either sympathy or support for the wars.

        1. True. Android is open source, like Linux. You can already get odd little distros for your rooted European phones.

      1. You think CyanogenMod is going to come with this technology enabled?

        This issue right here illustrates the beauty and freedom of Android over iOS.

        1. You know you can jailbreak iPhones, right?

          Also worth noting that Apple has a million patents they don’t use. Wake me up when this is a feature and not just an idea. Then I might consider an inferior alternative.

      2. Doesn’t matter what Google does. Worst case scenario, you root your phone and install a custom ROM. It’s ridiculously easy. 

    2. Yeah…and someone, somewhere will find a way to do it on Android too. Apple may be a big corporation, but guess what? So is google. 

  3. We should probably be grateful that Apple owns this patent if it means other phone makers will be less likely to include that “feature.”

    1. I bet that others have  similar patents.  This is one of those “lets patent it anyway”-ideas used to bolster your portfolio.

      1. Microsoft’s “Digital Manners” patent (previously boingboinged here:

        is basically the same concept, albeit in much broader and more generalized terms(ie. a generic framework for controlling various aspects of a device’s behavior, including but not limited to the camera, based on control signals associated with a location).

        Honestly, I’m a trifle surprised that Apple managed to land a patent for something so trivial…

    2.  Perhaps they are patenting the idea, intending never to use it, and to prevent anyone else from ever using it? Maybe Apple is going to save us all?

  4. I used to work on site at Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks facility in Palmdale and “Cameraphones” were strictly forbidden on site.  I would imagine that technology like this would allow a company that has secrets on site to better protect those secrets. Just force everyone to use an iPhone and shut the camera down when they come to work. It’s no surprise that Apple came up with this idea…

    1. I’d suspect that any security wonk worth his weight in paranoia would be very skeptical about trusting such a system. 

      For applications where “it’s worth what you pay” or “better some control than no control” apply(like movie theaters attempting to shut down cameras in theaters, or Security Legislation requiring that phones disable themselves in airports or some such nonsense), depending on the software loaded in a minimally tamper resistant piece of cheap consumer hardware to work as expected is reasonable enough. It won’t actually do so 100% of the time; but it’s too costly to clamp down harder, and you can discourage the casual riffraff.

      Skunkworks, though? If the camera is physically present, you’d better assume that it’s on, regardless of what the OS claims. By espionage standards, jailbreaking the iDevice would be a low skill/low effort measure, and even physically modifying it would be pretty cheap…

  5. One could simply disable the radio in the phone so it didn’t know where it was at. So, Apple will either need to force the phone to turn on the radio to verify its location, or they will simply disable the camera/phone features.

    This isn’t a consumer feature, it is an institutional need- government buildings, perhaps schools and hospitals. Because Apple would be the only device that could offer this feature, this helps solidify a monopoly for these large contracts.

      1.  Maybe but Airplane mode only disables cellular and not wi-fi, but I have no doubt if this really starts to be an issue some cleaver person will make it so jailbroken phones can get around the issue

        1. Airplane mode disables ALL wireless transmitters, Cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, but I believe it does not disable GPS, probably because GPS is a receiver not a transmitter

          1. It disables the GPS, too. One some models, at least. Depends on the chip and the implementation.

      2. I was thinking that.  Then thinking about all the protest/police footage lost while scrambling to get through Menu-Connectivity Settings-Airplane Mode- Airplane Mode ON . . . just what I want my thumbs doing while I run amongst angry crowds and stuff. 

        1.  I don’t own an iphone (a stint of helldesk for Apple soured me forever on them), but is it not possible to turn off the GPS as well? My cut-price Chinese Droid runs a bone-stock version of Android 2.3, and it is possible to turn off any/all connections independently. Whether it is possible to turn ’em on remotely, well, probably, but as others have said; Cyanogen.

      3. If you really wanted to implement this limitation, they make having GPS on a prerequisite for taking photos. 

  6. I don’t understand Apple’s thinking here. Sure, they could get a few dozen Megabucks from the film companies in the short term, but in the long term isn’t this kind of stuff just going to convince more people that being in Apple’s restrictive environment is just a pain-in-the-ass to them, and that they should move to a more open system like Android? When you can’t even take a screen shot, you’re going to be angry.

    And it’s not like Apple’s winning the mobile OS war. Android already has a bigger market share than all the other mobile OSes combined. So why are they helping convince more people to join the mass exodus from iOS?

    1. Patents are IP.  IP is property.  Property is worth money.  That is Apple’s thinking here.  All technology companies just apply for as many patents as they think they can get and then a few hundred more just in case.  If it’s possible to fool patent clerks into giving you a patent on “unlocking an electronic device by sliding an icon across the screen” then you give it a try.  It’s like printing money.

    2. “this kind of stuff just going to convince more people that being in Apple’s restrictive environment is just a pain-in-the-ass to them”
      But it’s shiny, I want the one with more G-B’s in it!

  7. Good! Then I should not expect to have this feature in any future Android phones I would be using.

  8. If it saves me having to look around the idiot that’s using their iPad as a point and shoot camera in public then I for one welcome our paranoid overlords.

    For my part, I will stick to legacy tech until they pry it from the drawer in the kitchen.

    1. Well the best camera is the one that’s there.

      What’s inexcusable is people holding a camera at arm’s length when it has a perfectly usable viewfinder. 

  9. Apple, yes, make it so NO ONE ELSE can ever use it! Own every aspect of the technology, make it impossible to license so it will never be used besides at your own press releases. lol

    1. I like to think that they could now choose to keep this technology off the market all together by never using it enforcing their patent by not allowing anyone else to use it wither – like they did with the electric car and the perpetual motion machine. 

  10. Ever try to scan currency? Big Brother -is- watching already. This becomes something that can and must be technologically defeated, another thing  . . . I should say.

      1. For those who don’t know, Photoshop and some printers have software to detect when you are trying to print images of common forms of currency. They won’t let you. Try to scan and print a $20 note using Photoshop and see what happens.

        I’d like to attribute it to conspiracy, but I suppose it’s liability really, so Adobe doesn’t get accused of making a tool with significant ‘infringing’ purposes, as it were.

          1. Not necessarily a complete refutation. 

            At least for some time, it would    be sensible o install a non-German driver with some printers because those limited the pages per minute.  Faster printers paid higher dues to VG Wort.

    1. Several years ago I was trying to print out some novelty bank notes and despite them having pictures of Harry Potter and the like on, the printer would stop after an inch or two and print a url for an anti counterfeiting website instead.

    2. Yes. For making hilarious parody currency, as you do. No black helicopters. What’s you’re point?

    1. It is an unjustifiable concept. 

      But it’s kind of employed in real life, already. Some countries limit their cars to slow speeds  (111 mph, for example)      – electronically. At least in Japan some cars can void that limit when the car determines that it is on a race track.

  11. Screengrabs of video players don’t always work well – not because of any DRM or anti-piracy measures, but for simple technical ones. A lot of hardware accelerated video playback actually renders the frames into a different memory buffer on the graphics card than the one holding the desktop image, and overlays one on the other as it is being sent to the monitor. Since screengrabs usually only grab the standard desktop screen memory, all you get is a blank/magic pink/other pattern box where the overlay would be.

    1. Yep. Old old (pre Mac OS X) DVD player on Macs simply drew a rectangle of a specific gren color for that reason – the rest happened in the graphics card. 

      IIRC  one could mess with that by choosing the same colour as a background image.

  12. I’ve never seen a problem with people taking pictures of movie screens. The thing that needs to be blocked from use is texting in theaters. I know the Alamo Drafthouse Theaters would be the first to make that happen if they could.


  14. As proposed, this is a cripple unfeature in the classic Cory “it’s not yours” mould.  I can see no reason why the user would ever want this.

    Therefore if Apple did go ahead with it, I can see them losing market share. 

    Therefore I can’t see them going ahead with it, but you never know: stupidity is boundless.

  15. I’m not tracking this entirely. Are we talking only cameras in Apple products? Only cameras in phones? Only digital cameras or what? 

  16. I can’t see why anybody would pay for this service if they couldn’t guarantee that every camera in the restricted area is disabled. As it stands, only Apple devices would be affected, leaving all the Androids, Samsungs, Nokias, digital cameras with a 3G card, other digital cameras, film cameras and people with photographic memories and a good drawing hand untouched.

  17. No, no!  Apple loves us!  Steve loves us from above!  It must be good for us, and probably makes us even hipper without our knowing it!  

  18. Please tell me why a plain old digital camera _without_ phone capabilities wouldn’t work. Why are people talking about film cameras?

    1. Those may be blocked too, if they’re made within the last couple of years. Mind you, the linked article is just about the GPS function, but still.

      The battle over computing is already here. It’s about who controls it. GovCorp has the upper hand now, but when you can print one of these things in your living room and share designs directly with other people, they won’t be able to stop us.

  19. yay maybe they can put these camera jammers in at clubs and people wont be afraid to dance  anymore because they think its gonna end up on tosh.0. yeh it would suck if we cant film cops being abusive (like it really helps anyways. people have been sure that there are cops that take things wayyy too far along time before cell phones were invented) but all this constant surveillance is giving birth to so many phobias right now that i really wouldnt mind if camera phones were banned outright. actually smart phones all together. there is nothing more obnoxious than hanging out with friends who cant stop playing with their stupid toy phones all night

  20. @Frauenfelder – Hey Mark, I’m surprised you missed this one:

    Firstly: A similar Apple patent came out a year ago:

    Secondly: If you need to screencap video do it in VLC (Video > Snapshot). My understanding is that other video players are built to specifically disallow screen caps for copyright reasons. Thankfully the creators of VLC like their users more than the content producers :)

  21. Fuck this. I stopped updating my iphone so I’ll still be able to jailbreak it at some point. I paid $500 for this thing – don’t tell me how or when I can use it. You’re already tracking me – that’s not enough? 

    1. Actually, every cell-phone carrier tracks you to an astonishing degree and with uncanny accuracy anyway.

  22. MPAA, first thing to go would be disabled in threatres for sure.

    RIAA, first thing to go would be disabled during concerts  for sure.

  23. Only Apple would patent something that is specifically anti-consumer.

    Oops, Android would infringe if they used this, I guess Android can’t have this obnoxious ‘feature.’ Too bad, right?

  24.  iOS already lets an admin disable the camera on the phone entirely. This patent mentions that this feature would be a policy enforced on a phone. With iOS policy is purely opt-in, I don’t think this has anything to do with the MPAA or RIAA, but would be very useful for a company trying to protect products that are still in development. I think the scenario goes like this work assigns you a phone or BYOD to get on the network you have to agree to this policy set that sets up your email and wireless networks, but will also disable the camera while you are on premise. Once you go home go ahead and take as many pictures of your cat as you want.

  25. surely this patent is invalid due to obviousness ?? although , i suppose , that evil is patentable !! 

  26. Hey, remember when Apple used to rage against the machine and was all about don’t be evil and shit:

  27. So Apple (and Microsoft) appear to have patented Locales idea of many years back. I bet the Champagne flowed in their office when this came out. Can’t help but think Apple have become the polar opposite their first advert and are laying the foundation of a ‘Demolition Man’ style society. Joy-joy.

  28. I would think, this. There are *lots* of superb hackers in the world! Once it is determined (if it ever happens) that Apple has placed this patented mechanism into iPhones, I’m sure hackers will be hot on a way to break it. Right? If it can’t be broke, Apple may *quickly* lose a lot of market share. Right? Else, if *all* phone makers are doing it, we’re living in a totalarian state and it won’t make a hill of beans difference. Right?

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