Apple’s Figured Out How to Turn Off Your iPhone’s Camera if It Doesn’t Like What You’re Recording

No PicturesApple’s mapped out a feature for the iPhone that would turn off the device’s camera if it detects you’re trying to video live events. It’ll use infrared sensors installed at concert venues to figure out when you’re trying to record, say, Lady Gaga at Madison Square Garden (Not that anyone would do that). Once it does, it’ll shut off the camera.

Big Cupertino may be trying to raise its standing with record companies, broadcasters and other entertainment businesses who object to home-made videos of their programming appearing on YouTube. (Which is interesting — Is this also another jab from Apple at YouTube-owner Google?)

Cnet points out that not every application of the technology is necessarily bad: Imagine walking through a museum and hearing details or seeing video about an exhibit as you walk past.

Of course, there’s a difference between turning information on and turning a gadget you paid good money for off. And I just don’t think all those entertainment companies are going to make a lot of friends when someone tries to shoot Katy Perry singing Friday (not that anyone would do that either) and their iPhone acts like a nasty aunt (“Put that thing down”).

The story broke on the blog Patently Apple.
Photo: Wolfgangfoto on Flickr

14 Responses to “Apple’s Figured Out How to Turn Off Your iPhone’s Camera if It Doesn’t Like What You’re Recording”

  1. Jill W.

    I think that Apple’s attempt to protect copyrighted material is admirable. The people who put on concerts spend a lot of money and I think it’s shameful how so-called fans will create bootleg material because “information wants to be free.”

    Another thought, maybe this technology can be used to prevent people (like teenagers and politicians) from sending pornographic videos via their cellphones.

    Yet another thought, maybe this technology could be used to curb cyber-bullying.

    Not all attempts at censorship are evil.

  2. Just be careful what you wish for. All forms of censorship have the ability to turn out badly. It could become that everything you take with your IPhone camera could be subject to censory regardless of what it is. And who knows what kind of person is viewing the things you are taking with your cameraphone.

    Something as harmless as taking a family photo could land you in jail because big brother didn’t like what someone was wearing in a picture, or how they happened to be posed. And all this type of technology is going to accomplish, is that people turn to other devices to perform these deeds. DTE aka Pine Knob to detroiters, doesn’t allow devices like this even in the stadium, though people will smuggle whatever they want in. People will always find a way.

  3. The intent might be good, but how can the technology determine what is a “concert” or not. So if I take my phone to film my daughters third grade music recital, will the iPhone censorship nazi program shut it off just be sure i am not a internet pirate?

    It is the responsibility of the owner of the product to use it responsibly. I hate the censorship that Apple does for its products, and it is going to hurt them. I like the iPhone concept, but there are better phones out there, and they are not going to be able to rely on marketing forever.

    Another example is how Apple blocks users from operating other apps that potentially allow them to spend money elsewhere other than iTunes. I like my freedom of choice.

    You can use a hammer to do a bunch of illegal stuff. From breaking and entering, outright property damage, to assault/murder. Just because it can do things like that doesn’t mean all hammers come looking like a Fisher Price toy just to prevent bad things from happening. It just doesn’t make sense.

  4. As I understand it, sensors must first be installed. So unless a certain congressman had a sensor strapped to his “business” this technology would not be useful. Perhaps parents could make their kids wear them if they feared/suspected they were sexting? What if, at Lady Gaga’s concert, a crime was committed within range of being adequately recorded?

  5. Joe, the article we’re commenting on isn’t quite correct; it’s infrared _transmitters_ that would be installed at concert events, not infrared sensors. The transmitters would send out signals like the ones transmitted by your TV remote control, only they’d probably be brighter to have a longer range. The iPhone camera would sense those signals and would shut down the recording function if the signals indicated that a prohibited event was being recorded.

    This type of function can probably be installed on existing iPhone or Android smartphones without needing any hardware changes to the device; I know that my LG VX8300 cellphone’s camera is sensitive to infrared. Try it yourself; turn on the video camera in your device, and watch its video monitor with one hand while you point and click a remote control at it using the other hand. On my phone I can clearly see a bright blue light coming from the remote.

    Natural infrared works too. Turn on an electric stove or a toaster, then point your video camera at the hot area.

    • I suppose the iPhone’s program could do anything it was programmed to do, including turning the camera on unexpectedly, taking a picture, and posting it to the web. But I think that would be considered an illegal invasion of privacy. The courts haven’t yet gone so far as to decide that you have no reasonable expectation of privacy in your own home if you have an iPhone powered up near you.

      You could always put black tape over the camera lens, or power off the iPhone whenever you’re not actually using it. But I don’t think that’s necessary — yet.

      • dale blankenship

        A middle school that loaned laptops to all students had a mechanism to remotely activate the built-in camera, to be used if the laptop was lost/stolen/misplaced. They got into a lot of trouble when it was determined that they activated them (accidentally, so they claimed) at other times.

        Also, the microphone on any cell phone can be remotely activated, to record all conversations nearby. This was done under court order to get evidence against a notorious mobster, the FBI recorded everything for weeks to build the case against him.

        Just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean that they *aren’t* out to get you.

  6. Jeff in SoCal

    What a great idea!

    Cops can use this capability to make sure no one can record them using excessive force or planting evidence!

    Those poor persecuted rulers of Middle Eastern and North African countries can make sure no one can record them killing peaceful protesters.

    • Certainly possible, but only if all video recording devices obey the commands from the censoring IR transmitter. That seems unlikely to me. It’s always easier to build a device that can receive all signals, than it is to build a device that responds to commands to turn itself off.

      Even if a coalition of all manufacturers of video cameras or their internal imaging elements agreed to only manufacture unhackable devices that did obey the censoring signals, these could be overcome by infrared (IR) jamming devices. Several technologies are possible:

      1. A strong IR jamming transmitter that could be mounted anywhere in the area being photographed. It would transmit a omnidirectional IR signal that would illuminate the area, bounce back to the camera, and be strong enough to overwhelm the original IR transmitter’s signal. Advantage: One device could nullify the censoring for all photographers. Disadvantage: Its omnidirectional beam makes the device easy to detect and remove.

      2. A smaller and less powerful directional handheld jammer could be held or worn by the user and pointed back to the camera lens while taking the video. For example, a small device could be mounted under the front brim of a hat, illuminating a camera that the photographer was holding up to their eyes. Disadvantage: Its weaker beam could still be detected as it illuminated the user’s face.

      3. An even less powerful device with a transparent one-way medium illuminated from the side by jamming IR could be attached to the camera and mounted in front of the lens. If the jamming IR did not leak away from the camera, this would not be detectable.

      Even with an undetectable jamming IR transmitter, the jamming signal would still have to effectively mask the censoring IR transmitter transmitting the shutdown signal. For example, if the censoring transmitter used a spread-spectrum or frequency-hopping technology, the jamming transmitter would have to be more sophisticated to block it. This could lead to an IR “arms race”, with IR transmitters and IR jammers both becoming more sophisticated.

      Interference and counter-interference of transmissions, whether they are the visual light and sound transmissions from the photographed event, or the transmissions from a censoring device, is nothing new. See .

      • So you’re saying it’s no problem that it’s no problem that your cell phone becomes a tool of the police state because there are some complex and unrealistic countermeasures that you can employ. For which you would probably get thrown in jail. Some people are not too bright.