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Apple Camera Patent Lets External Transmitters Disable Features 268

sticks_us writes with news of an Apple patent application, recently published by the USPTO, for an on-board camera system that would include circuitry for processing external infrared signals. The data received from these signals could then be used to present information to the user of the device, or even to modify the device's operation. "For example, an infrared emitter could be located in areas where picture or video capture is prohibited, and the emitter could generate infrared signals with encoded data that includes commands to disable the recording functions of devices. An electronic device could then receive the infrared signals, decode the data and temporarily disable the device's recording function based on the command. ... In some embodiments, a device may apply a watermark to detected images as an alternative to completely disabling a recording function."
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Apple Camera Patent Lets External Transmitters Disable Features

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  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Friday June 03, 2011 @09:31AM (#36330372)

    Apple has tapped into a pretty nice market there. They'll make quite a bit just selling portable IR transmitters that cops can wear on their belts--for when our boys in blue need to enforce a little extra discouragement on handcuffed perps and don't want to deal with any pesky pinkos filming or taking pictures.

    Not only that, but by holding the patent, they stand to make a fortune when the government decides to make it mandatory in all new cameras.

    That Steve Jobs is nothing if not a money-making machine. I bet he'll have every college student in the U.S. lined up around the block to buy one of these "enhanced" cameras. He's like one of those Bond villians who comes up with a plan that's undeniably horrific and evil, but also damned creative and ingenious.

    Meanwhile the old Bond villian, Bill Gates, is off fighting AIDS in Africa. Guess that's like when Jaws [] became a good guy in Moonraker.

    • Yet they'd never be more than one IR cut filter away from a lawsuit.

      • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @09:54AM (#36330618) Homepage Journal

        Yet they'd never be more than one IR cut filter away from a lawsuit.

        Don't most daylight digital cameras already have IR filters on them? That's why when you look closely at a digital camera lens, it has a dark reddish tint to it. I've tried using IR light to convert a webcam into a nighttime camera and it never goes well unless i feel like tearing the camera apart and removing the filter. (which on MOST cameras, is a severe pita)

        But without that filter, the IR light overwhelms the sensor during the daytime, so it's required for daytime use. I just bought a camera that has daytime/nighttime mode, and it swings a red IR filter into place in front of the CCD for daytime operation.

        Sooooo my question is, just how effective is this system going to be if there's an IR filter in place? Now I realize it doesn't completely cut out the IR - I can for example see the blinky light on my remote in my webcam, but it's brightness is greatly reduced.

        • This is something I really need to look at in more detail. If you try astrophotography with a lot of digital cameras, you'll find that the H-alpha wavelength (around 650nm, red) is greatly diminished by the filter. However, an IR LED (peak wavelength about 960nm) shows up brightly in digital photos taken on the same camera. It seems more sensible to include a short-pass filter as they are cheaper to manufacture but perhaps they are band-pass? Just a thought; may be totally off here.
    • Would celebrating the release of this "feature" onto the commercial market with a variant of Apple's classic 'Think Different' [] posters featuring Rodney King, the Gitmo dog-leash guy, and similar?
    • There is actually a very good market for this invention: Plenty of companies have places where they don't want any photos being taken (how many people post here "I can't buy a MacBook because of the built-in camera hahaha stupid Apple!!!"), so all you need is a little transmitter in the room, and everyone with the proper device can come in. It will take a while, but at some point certain places will only allow you to use a computer or phone if it has no camera, or if it is an Apple product.
      • unless its all in ONE chip, any hardware guy worth his salt could open a laptop (etc) and bypass this.

        now, once you start talking about making this a 'secure camera', you'll lose sales since no intelligent person will want any part of this 'you countrol MY camera' stuff.

        apple fanboys will still buy but the rest of us will walk away from this, shaking our heads in disbelief.

        many of us don't trust the 'software controlled' cameras to stay off; now we would have to worry about the exact opposite: we WANT a pho

      • That was my first thought as well. But how are the security goons going to distinguish between e.g. the 2010 Macbook Pro which doesn't have this feature, and the externally identical 2011 MBP which does? Or the iPhone 4.1 with, and the yPhone Chinese clone without? Etc. for all devices on the market.

    • Plz make borg picture for Jobs and put halo around Gates borg. kthxbai
    • hahah yeah okay, right. lets see, where do we begin. How about unintended consequences? You bet.

      Or "whoops, your phone didn't receive the signal to re-enable the feature when it left", let alone other issues that would possibly make this questionable or only work on apple phones. Think that won't happen?

    • I was thinking of the lawsuits on Apple, and the U.S. D.O.J. when a newspaper says, "Freedom of the Press."
    • My Android phone will be protected from this feature because Apple has a patient on it. So only iPhones will get to use this.
      This is wonderful.

  • Now all I have to do is not buy an iphone and I'm sure to not get this incredibly stupid "feature". Of course they'll probably just license it for a quarter a camera or something and other companies will trip over themselves to implement it and we'll all pay for the pleasure of having a less useful device.
  • I guess I'll be submitting a patent for a phone case with an IR filter for the camera.
    • easier solution: interfere with the IR stream. not hard. tv-b-gone (adafruit) is one such example. easy (very!) to build ir transmitters and code them any way you want. throw lots of noise in the domain. inverse square is on YOUR side, not theirs.

  • Ah, Apple... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @09:35AM (#36330406) Journal
    I am frequently baffled by some of the stuff that Apple gets away with patenting. In this case, the patent described would(to my layman's inspection) appear to be a mere subset of Microsoft's (equally odious and sinister) 2008 "Digital Manners" patent [], except that that patent covered a much broader range of possible prohibition/settings propagation media, and a much more generic set of possible commands.
    • On the other hand, might as well patent it, even if you have no intention of using it. Apple does that a lot. Comes up with an idea, patents it, and then never uses it. But it does ensure that anyone who DOES use it, owes Apple a chunk of change.
      • I just don't understand how they received this particular patent. I know that defensive patenting/preemptive patenting is a big thing, it's just that this patent looks like a trivial subset of a patent that was filed in 2006 and granted in 2008, which described a data-transport and device-command agnostic framework for implementing virtually any location/beacon-based device control policy.

        This patent is basically the "We could use coded IR pulses and the onboard camera as a data transport, and deliver
  • by AlexiaDeath ( 1616055 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @09:35AM (#36330408)
    Give external control over over a non-networked part of my device to a thrid party? with any intent? HELL NO. Really. If mankind buys such devices without thought... May the gods be merciful on us all.
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @09:39AM (#36330466) Journal
      Unfortunately, the universe's pulsars actually exist to transmit coded control messages to the deities of various pantheons, enforcing a strict "no mercy upon mortals" policy within the observable universe. Nobody is sure which eldrich ancient god holds the business-method patent on mercy; but it exists outside of time, so it won't be expiring any time soon.
    • I wonder what happens when people start selling portable "camera controllers". The intended purpose can be overridden and the nefarious purpose can propagate easily.
    • So what happens once government regulators convince all manufacturers of new cameras and new smartphones to implement this? It's already happened to color printers, which add yellow steganographic identifiers to any color print to help trace counterfeit bank notes. Don't like it? Don't buy a printer.
    • Give external control over over a non-networked part of my device to a thrid party? with any intent? HELL NO. Really. If mankind buys such devices without thought... May the gods be merciful on us all.

      Mankind will buy such devices without thought if that's all that's available to purchase.

  • by Script Cat ( 832717 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @09:38AM (#36330448)

    The is no reason for this dangerous feature to be included in a device that I purchase. That could get someone killed. Take some pics of some criminal activity and post it online, then the pic rats you out like a cheep stool pigeon. Then youâ(TM)re pushing up daisies.

  • nuff said
  • First Apple censors their App Store. Now they're facilitating at-source-proactive censorship of media.

    What's next? A new iOS upgrade that translates any "subversive" conversations or texts into state-approved rhetoric?

  • For example, an infrared emitter could be located in areas where picture or video capture is prohibited, and the emitter could generate infrared signals with encoded data that includes commands to disable the recording functions of devices.

    I thought we agreed that DRM [on the client side] is broken by design?

  • by MrDoh! ( 71235 ) on Friday June 03, 2011 @09:42AM (#36330500) Homepage Journal

    This'll be perfect for following scared women at night, and disabling their ability to make calls/send texts/take a picture.
    And sure cops will have their flashing lights stopping pictures being taken of them.

    Can't think why I'd want a camera that would do this. The small ability to get meta data about something I'm taking a piccy of is far outweighed by the negative uses.

    Go go masking tape.

  • The billions of existing cameras will continue to ignore such external commands, so the only way to enforce this is to make all of those illegal. That might fly in North Korea, but in the Western world? I know dystopian views are popular here, but I just don't see this happening.

    Even individual companies are going to have a hard time, e.g. a movie theatre isn't going to be able to reliably distinguish between cameras with and without this feature, so they'll still ban all cameras.

  • Is embedding the ID code of the camera in every photo taken so officials can find out who is taking which photos. If it doesn't exist already it's less than five years out.

    • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

      I think this happens already.

    • by kenh ( 9056 )

      You mean like printers []?

      • Yep, except digitally integrated with the photo so it can't be removed and is copied with the image itself. Easy to argue for (the think of the children and copywright defense arguments pop right to mind but almost any prosecutor would love to have an unimpeachable connection between every copy of a given photo and the camera that took it), easy to do, and not expensive. Also pretty invasive.

    • Old fashioned 35mm camera and film.

  • Put the transmitter on a garter and Paris Hilton and her friends would then be free to exit vehicles w/o giving the paparazzi another bonus shot.

    • Only problem with that is that the paparazzi will have high-end cameras where that "feature" either doesn't exists or can be disabled.

      Joe Consumer isn't going to know how to do that on his iPhone 6, though.

    • Paris Hilton doesn't even wear panties, so why would she wear a garter. Besides, paparazzi shots is how she gets her "fame".
  • Their view is that the phone/device doesn't really belong to you in any real sense.

    You may have bought it, and thus own the physical form, but they only let you use the software, thus it does what they want, not what you want.

    Oh, and by the way, they effectively won't let you remove their software and load your own software on it. (Updates that brick hacked devices for example.)

    That attitude takes tethering to the level of a steel chain.

  • Of course, as an optical signaling mechanisim, there is absolutely no way this type of mechanisim could be by-passed or worked-around... Right?

  • Well I'm glad I still have my two film cameras, no infrared sensor in them just infrared film.
  • Apple's new iEvil Bit will make it easier than ever to [CENSORED BY RIAA INFRA-RED CODEC].
  • Seeing as how an IR Filter only costs about $25 for a real, 46mm lens, This technology is dead in the water. Anyone who wants to circumvent it just needs to cough up a few bucks for some IR filtiring film and put it in front of the camera lens.
    • I think the issue is that a lot of spontaneous event video is shot of people who would rather not be caught doing whatever they're doing (and know it in advance) by Joe-off-the-street who would be unlikely to prepare for the event.

    • Circumvention would naturally be a criminal offence. All new devices following the implementation of the law requiring the technology would be so equipped and all older devices will be routinely seized and searched for prohibited images which would prompt the owner to buy a new, compliant device.

  • It's a clever idea. I won't begrudge them the patent. I'm even kind of in favor of it; it's kind of a robots.txt file for the real world.

    But, like robots.txt, clients (cameras) should treat it as advisory only and be free to ignore it. I certainly wouldn't buy a camera in which it couldn't be disabled. It's way too open to abuse. Not just in prohibiting photos in random public venues, but I can easily imagine advertisers jumping on this. For the price of an IR transmitter you can stuff a watermark into

    • if its up to the owner of the camera to decide if the 'recommendation' is to be heeded or not, then its USELESS.

      the only use of this is when the operator has no choice. you onboard for THAT?

      else, what use is this to those in control if the operator has any way. who in their right mind would ENABLE such a feature if it was their choice?

      there ino good side to this. NONE.

      pure control freakness on the part of the state. or apple. or both.

  • I wonder about that sort of thing.

    Okay, in the civilian world, there is a kind of precedent -- we are required to buy insurance to drive our cars. (Though technically, "proof of financial responsibility" is required and that can come in the form of a very large bank account balance in many states.)

    So this infrared censorship signal would be a feature that would seem to require mandatory compliance from device manufacturers to be effective or useful to government interests. So what happens when compliance

  • I remember a time when patents were used to protect inventions that enhanced our life. Hell, I remember a time when Apple was a company that focused on making products that were easier to use. Now they seem to be focusing on ways to prohibit you from using your device the way in which you'd like. From their perspective, this makes sense. As they expand their business to include media distribution (iTunes) and advertising (iAds), they can no longer focus solely on the experience of the end user. They need to make concessions to appease content creation companies and advertising customers. Many of these concessions will require limiting what the end user is capable of doing with their device.

    But not all hope is lost. Based on the success of Apple, many other tech companies have learned just how important it is to develop interfaces that are easier and more enjoyable to use. No longer are we stuck with the attitude that users need to stop whining about quirky interfaces and just use the hacked-together interface which is "good enough". Hopefully these companies will pick up where Apple left off. Given the success of Android devices, I'd say that things aren't looking too bad.
  • It is an Apple watermark...
  • with a piece of my patented tape!

  • This won't work unless legislation is passed mandating all cameras be equipped with this technology. I don't see this happening. Perhaps it may have some application to generate a copyright warning in the event some professional photographer is about to snap some rights restricted material. But the market for that is so slim I don't see it being implemented.

    Now what would work is to extend this technology to tag objects with meta data. Snap a photo of an interesting building for example and it gets tagged

  • 3rd party infrared filter. Presto.

  • Just put an infrared lens filter in front of the camera. I'm sure Jobs will bribe his way into a patent on those to or pay some politician to make them illegal.

  • Oh, yeah, I can't possibly think of any ways this can be abused... /snarkasm

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter