Apple granted patent for location-based camera phone disabling


100 Responses to “Apple granted patent for location-based camera phone disabling”

  1. RobDobbs says:

    “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. 

    • Bart says:

      Yup, put a cell phone camera jammer in every cruiser. No more public filming of police misbehavior. 

      • Boundegar says:

        My thoughts exactly.

      • vonbobo says:

        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.

        • babVU98i says:

          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”.

          • vonbobo says:

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

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

          • spejic says:

            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.

          • Kimmo says:

            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. lev36 says:

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

  3. Reason enough to have an android device.

    • Nick Harvey says:

       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

      • Zig Rivers says:

        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.

    • Alan Graham says:

      You really think that Google can’t get bullied into the same functionality? They know who pays their bills, and it isn’t us…it’s advertisers. 

    • $16781674 says:

      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. 

  4. Brainspore says:

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

    • retepslluerb says:

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

    • oasisob1 says:

       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?

  5. 5up Mushroom says:

    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…

    • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

      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…

    • retepslluerb says:

      And how do you distinguish a jailbroken iPhone from a normal one? 

  6. Angus_Mesmer says:

    “Protecting you from yourself.”

    Because Apple knows best.

  7. vonbobo says:

    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.

    • Ernesto Torres says:

       Yeah, wouldn’t putting it on airplane mode not allow this to work?

      • Chris Brewer says:

         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

      • llazy8 says:

        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. 

        • Gilbert Wham says:

           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.

      • retepslluerb says:

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

    • teapot says:

      Even now the only phones that the US govt. can buy are BlackBerry devices as they are the only ones with comprehensive enough security.

      “The high encryption standard of BlackBerry smartphones and the PlayBook tablet allow them to be the only consumer handheld devices certified for use by US Government agencies.”

  8. SamSam says:

    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?

    • wysinwyg says:

      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.

    • vonbobo says:

      “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!

  9. Lurking_Grue says:

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

  10. MrRocking says:

    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.

    • retepslluerb says:

      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. 

  11. DreamboatSkanky says:

    If it’s legitimate photography, Apple has ways of shutting that down.

  12. winkybb says:

    If it stops idiots in front of me using their phones to photograph concerts, then I’m all for it.

  13. artbyjcm says:

    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

    • RobDobbs says:

      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. 

  14. timquinn says:

    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.

      • Mantissa128 says:

        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.

    • 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.

    • andygates says:

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

  15. jon29 says:

    I’m impressed. Save for a couple of “Apple is just patenting this with no intention of using it” type comments, no fanboys have tried to justify this yet.

    Just like the drone-strike app illustrated putting a single gatekeeper in charge of what you do with your devices is a lousy idea.

    • retepslluerb says:

      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.

  16. James Churchill says:

    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.

    • Matt Jones says:

       That’s what I was thinking. It’s the same on linux, or at least it was a few years ago when I tried it)

    • retepslluerb says:

      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.

  17. Garrett wilkins says:

    An that’s one of the MANY reasons I’m an Android User. 

  18. atomicmonster says:

    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.

  19. xaulted1 says:


  20. andygates says:

    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.

  21. Pipenta says:

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

  22. CitizenCharlesFosterKane says:

    Nothing good will come of this.

  23. NelC says:

    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.

  24. Sleestak says:

    A lawyer even commented that no one could proably get a patent blater ecause of that post.

  25. Diogenes says:

    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!  

  26. RadioSilence says:


  27. Ladyfingers says:

    Can people please stop giving money to this Orwellian monstrosity of a company? Thank you.

  28. tamgoddess says:

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

    • Mantissa128 says:

      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.

  29. pjcamp says:

    Praps you shouldn’t be all Appled up there?

  30. tibbytrillz says:

    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

  31. Donaleen Kohn says:

    Steve does a Job on YOU!

  32. teapot says:

    @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 :)

  33. Wiki-Truths says:

    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? 

  34. Ryan Lenethen says:

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

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

  35. 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?

  36. Roger Frutiger says:

     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.

  37. edthehippie says:

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

  38. John Napsterista says:

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

  39. Sirkowski says:

    Another reason not to own anything by Apple.

  40. steveo67 says:

    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.

  41. fjpoblam says:

    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?

  42. GrumpySteen says:

    Automatic uploads prevent the police/security/military/mugger/rapist from forcing you to delete the only copy of a photo or video at gunpoint.

  43. stuck411 says:

    Was going to say that there’s services/apps that take your photos or video instantly and post them for you. If your phone is seized it no longer matters. It has helped several in the Middle East when it came to issues as well as people here in the States.

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