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Apple Patents Tech to Control Your Camera

A recent Apple patent filing (benignly titled "Systems and methods for receiving infrared data with a camera designed to detect images based on visible light") hints at future filled with smart device limitations.

In it's most basic form, the patent explains a technology that detects invisible information (infrared light in the examples) that are read by your phone when trying to take a photograph or record a video. The infrared light is captured by the camera on your phone and can execute special commands based on the data it carries.

Starting to sound a little ominous, but let's continue.

The main use case for this, Apple explains, is restricting the ability of your phone from capturing photos or videos in certain areas. Let's explore some examples of this in use.

You're finally at that Beyoncé concert you've been waiting to see for months. You're excited and want to snap a photo or video to share with your friends on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, whatever. You pull out your phone to capture the scene, but when you press record you just get a notice saying that "Recording is not currently permitted." It turns out Columbia Records is pumping out an infrared signal (along with the rest of the concert's light show) that is telling all the phones in the audience that this performance is copyrighted and they need to fuck off and officially license any recordings.

Fun, right?

Apple also suggests uses like: preventing photography in classified facilities, triggering augmented reality info in museum displays (actually a cool idea) or blocking photography (not so cool) in other museum areas, automatically applying watermarks to images and recordings, and other exciting features.

It's not hard to think of tons of fun ways for this technology to assault us and take away freedoms we previously enjoyed. Imagine photographing landmarks, pieces of art, events (parades, concerts, etc), billboards, buildings, anything that has some sort of financial incentive and having advertising watermarks forced onto all your images ("The Eiffel Tower brought to you by delicious Coca-Cola.") Imagine traveling to the Museum of Modern Art to see your favorite contemporary artist's work (maybe you love DalĂ­ or really need to see a particular Pollock) and trying to snap a photograph to remember the moment only to find the error "Copyrighted image, please see our giftshop for licensed copies."

The encoding of data also has fun additional features that could be added (as the AR display Apple mentions suggest). Data that you don't know exists (or data you don't want recorded) can be easily encoded onto your photographs or recordings (think of this like metadata and geotagging on steroids). The loading of data could also trigger third party apps (only needing access to camera permissions) to register your location, what you're looking at and that you're trying to take a photo of it, and ping all this data and more (along with your user information) back to their server.

If all that isn't enough fun, there's also the unforeseen implementations we get to look forward to. Hackers will be rushing to build "mimic" transmitters that could be deployed at perfectly benign areas and events and block you from taking photographs, add unwanted watermarks (goatse anyone), or even execute malicious code.

Granted, this does bring up an interesting idea of wearing a mobile infrared transmitter to block casual photographs of you (celebrities rejoice). But this to can be abused. Now imagine you witness police acting in an illegal manner. You whip out your camera to record, but whoops, police are broadcasting the "don't record" signal and you (and the victims) are out of luck.

Now maybe Apple is patenting this to not implement and solely prevent others from bringing this abomination into the world (for at least a few years until the patent expires), but hope fails us more often than not.

This tech will initially be limited to smartphones which have the processing power and architecture to execute all this live, but as the internet of shit things spreads, you'll find your point shoot cameras (if those still exist), DSLR's, and anything with a sensor will eventually have this technology.

And if infrared signals sound too complex, don't worry because as object recognition becomes better and less computationally expensive, this will all happen automatically via smart object recognition happening real time on your camera.

Guess I'll be hanging onto my film cameras for the next few decades.