Lying about Apple, especially the iPhone, seems to be a fad these days.
The usually mostly reliable Register seems to be caught up in some kind of anti-Apple hysteria lately. Today, they breathlessly report:
The leading computer company plans to build a system that will sense when people are trying to video live events — and turn off their cameras.[emp added]
Small problem, nothing in the articles supports that breathless assertion. It is, quite simply, a lie and journalistic fraud.
They offered no evidence at all that Apple “plans to build a system.” The story simply reports that Apple has filed a patent for such a technology. It is common practice for companies to patent everything that they think up. If something is technologically possible, the company patents it just in case. Filing a patent in no way indicates that the company means to deploy the technology.
I did a patent crawl of Apple a few years back and found that Apple has about fifty unused patents for everyone I could identify that made it into a shipping product. Filing a patent tells us nothing about what the company intends.
It is equally likely that Apple could use the patent to prevent other companies from deploying the technology. I guess that wouldn’t be that interesting would it?
I have substantial interest in Apple, but I don’t think I am being biased when I get tired of these hysterical stories that always turn out to be nothing. Remember a couple of months ago when Apple was “tracking their user’s every move!” It turned out to be a bug that prevented a cache file of local wi-fi spots from being deleted. There was never any evidence that Apple even knew the file existed much less that they were using it in any way without the user’s knowledge.
Apple has been enormously successful in the last few years at balancing the rights of content producers, especially small, independent producers like myself, with the rights of content consumers. The didn’t do that by reducing the functionality at the end user’s side. End users get high quality music, media and software much cheaper than they did in the past and small producers can actually reach the market and get paid without having to sell themselves out to a big media or software company. It’s a massive win-win for everybody.
Yet somehow, this is regarded as absolutely Orwellian to the point that everyone believes uncritically every bad thing anyone says about Apple no matter how unsupported or far fetched.
I really wish there was a way to hold people responsible for this level of malice and/or incompetence. But hey, journalists are too important to be held responsible. It might have a “chilling” effect on their bank accounts.
Yeah, I am pissed off.
The upshot is that the patent is actually for a means of communicating with mobile devices via the infrared picked up by the device’s cameras. Most high quality cameras today can detect infrared but people can’t see it so it is usually ignored unless it is used for night vision. The Apple patent provides for a means of putting infrared “tags” on objects and locations that would broadcast information that the mobile device could pick up and display.
For example, a museum could put tags besides displays that would provide information about the display. The technology also could be used to provide virtual direction signs. It’s basically a way to wire in augmented reality to specific locations.
The patent also speculates that the technology could be used to provide tags that would order the device to disable its camera. This is odd because you can’t possibly make a valid business model that would make the disabling technology pay. End users won’t pay for any kind of functional limitation unless they get something in return. Patently Apple explains this by observing:
In Apple’s patent point # 48, the patent specifically adds “classified facilities” as being another application for this technology: “In some embodiments, a transmitter can be located in areas where capturing pictures and videos is prohibited (e.g., a concert or a classified facility) and the transmitters can generate infrared signals with encoded data that includes commands temporarily disabling recording functions.” Hmm, I guess that means that area 51 will be better protected in the future. And no, you didn’t see any little green men, right? Kidding aside, you could be rest assured that the request for such a feature must have come directly from the US government at some point in time.
Given my experiences at Apple and other computing companies, I think he is correct that a government request/mandate is probably the primary driver behind this functionality. It’s really clear that such a disabling technology would be useless unless backed by a government mandate requiring all recording devices to use the tag system. There is no point in only disabling 20% of the recording devices present.
While the disabling technology could be abused, it could also be a benefit because, lets face it, there are a lot of areas of personal life in which we wouldn’t like people to be able to record us. How about a medical files storage room? Do you want anybody to be able to take a snap of your medical files and post it online? How about public rest rooms, gyms or dressing rooms? What if you want to host a wild party and don’t want video of you dancing in nothing but a lampshade showing up in your boss’ email Monday morning?
So, in the end, we have a much more complex story than, “Apple is going to cripple your phone’s camera just to protect greedy big media companies!” Instead we have a potentially very useful technology that like all technology has a lot implications both good and bad.
Honestly, why couldn’t Register (and a lot of other tech media sites) have the integrity to add a single extra paragraph to flesh things out a bit? Oh, right, they sell news stories, not news facts. Stories are by definition fiction and an evil Apple makes a better story,. End of story.
Update II: I suppose it would be paranoiac and churlish of me to speculate on how much Google or Microsoft might have paid to have the false story spread? Just saying Google with its Android and Microsofts virtually unknown Windows Mobile must be really liking the way the media has spun this story.