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 Compared to Bluetooth, infrared might today seem like a more outdated approach, noted 9to5Mac.