Movie theaters could one day have an easier way to crack down on illegal filming during screenings.
Apple was recently granted a patent that would remotely disable the cameras on any phone. The technology would emit infrared rays with encoded data that includes commands to temporarily shut down the cameras, preventing both photo and video functionality. The language of the patent filing suggests that the patent could be used to shut down piracy at concerts, movie theaters or other sensitive locations, as reported by Patently Apple.
The infrared emitter's ability to carry commands that can reach nearby devices has other potential uses. The patent filing mentions another possible use of the technology in a museum setting. An infrared emitter could sit near a museum exhibit and emit waves that reach an observer's phone, populating their device with more information about the item or painting.
The potential uses for this kind of technology that remotely can emit commands to a personal phone immediately triggers concerns for some privacy experts, who fear that it could be used for other purposes.
"The underlying motivation behind this kind of development is definitely alarming," said Parker Higgins, a spokesperson for the digital advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation. Higgins said that governments at the local, state, and national levels have all advocated to be able to remotely control phones before. "We've seen it before when police in Ferguson called a no-fly zone to keep media from capturing aerial shots, or when authorities in the Bay Area or Egypt shut down cell service during protests. There's no good reason to trust the government to control criticism of its own behavior," he said.
Apple has not yet responded to request for comment.
Apple applied for rights to the infrared system in 2011 and was finally granted the patent five years later. In that time period, Apple started using a similar data transmission technology called iBeacons, which powers Bluetooth functionality, allowing users to control a sound system via their phone. Compared to Bluetooth, infrared might today seem like a more outdated approach, noted 9to5Mac.
It's possible that Apple might not even have any intention to use the patent.
Like thousands of other patents Apple applies for each year, this one could just wind up unused.