Those of us of a certain age in IT will remember Apple’s famous TV advert for the groundbreaking ‘Macintosh’ computer back in 1984. The advert, here on You Tube, portrayed how the Mac would free computer users from the grasp of the evil Corporate Computer giants (such as IBM and Microsoft) and did a lot to help Apple’s image as the ‘good (albeit expensive) guys’ in the computer world, providing computers that were fun to use, cool and trendy.
Macs were always hard to write software for, compared to the PC. But the ease of use and availability of high quality software for media use, combined with a large number of users who might be regarded as ‘opinion formers’ – writers, authors, musicians and other media players – ensured that the Mac would survive. In recent years the iPod, iPhone and iPad have created new markets for Apple products – indeed, I have an iPad on loan at the moment and I really enjoy it, despite my original qualms about the iPad. But Apple kit has become increasingly ‘walled garden’. I first explored this in this Blog post: http://www.joepritchard.me.uk/2010/04/apple-why-2014-could-be-like-1984/, expressing concern about the way in which Apple were controlling what you viewed and accessed with the iPad.
So, what’s new? Why am I back here?
Take a look at this Patent. The stated purpose is to allow the owners of concert or conference venues to turn off the cameras of any devices in the venue that are using technology that is described in the Patent. You might wonder why someone in the digital camera / video business would want to put circuitry in their cameras that would allow them to be remotely disabled. Well, if you’re a media publisher, then you might be very interested indeed in being able to prevent people filming concerts and such that you might actually have the rights for. At this level – that of Digital Rights Management – then it’s a useful technology – especially if, like Apple, you make money by selling media, or if you think that governments, encouraged by media companies, may consider beefing up DRM laws to protect more forms of media.
The patent relies on infra-red light to disable (or change the function of) the cameras. Wireless signals would have range issues or might even be disabled by the simple expedient of the user of the camera simply disabling WiFi. As far as I can see, the patent works by using Infra Red light coming in through the camera lens – there might be a way to filter this, but I’m not entirely sure – probably suitable IR filters would dim and distort the colour of the image beyond usability.
Whilst the DRM issue of recording performances has been the overt driving force behind this patent, I’m more worried about how it might be used to disable the camera at demonstrations, civil unrest, etc. Capturing footage such as that seen in the UK Student Demonstrations, the UK G20 evidence about the death of a passer by and all the footage from Egypt and Greece might no longer be possible for users of cameras fitted with such technology. All the authorities would have to do is ‘paint’ areas of the scene they don’t want filming with a suitable IR signal and that’s that – apart from any ‘old tech’ that doesn’t have this patent incorporated. This would be a simple step – the technology to paint with IR could be as simple as a battery of high intensity infra-red LEDs emitting the required coded signals. One can imagine the situation – the authorities wish to violently break up a demonstration, they turn the infra-red emitters on, the phone cameras go dark, the kickings start.
Apple seem to have come a long way since their ‘freedom from authoritarian power’ beginnings in the 1970s and 1980s. The revolution will not be televised; certainly not with Apple kit, anyway.