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Apple can now shoot laser beams at your phones to stop you filming gigs, but should they?

Jerks with phones have ruined concerts, but Apple has a revolutionary solution that’s got people very excited – and terrified.

Going to gigs used to always be a simple proposition – you go to a venue, the artist plays their songs, you dance and cheer.

Easy.

Now it’s more of a case of go to a venue, a thousand people put their phones in the air, the artist plays, you watch them play through the phone of the guy in front of you, people around you get angry for bumping them, everyone leaves disappointed.

Some musicians have started to take a stand – recently Adele took a swipe at a crowd member who insisted on filming her entire show, saying, “Could you stop filming me with that video camera? Because I’m really here in real life, you can enjoy it in real life rather than through your camera.”

Short of confiscating everyone’s phone though, there’s pretty much nothing you do.

… Or so you thought.

Earlier this week, the US Patents and Trademark Office approved a new piece of Apple technology that enables iPhones and iPads to receive infrared data.

The patent for Apples technology

On face value, while certainly cool, its uses seem innocuous – think guided museum tours or virtual coupons.

But there’s a note on the application which has raised a few eyebrows.

The same technology, it explains, could be used to disable a camera at “a concert or classified facility”.

Apple says that the patent would display a “recording disabled” message on your phone if you try to film, or alternatively, it could blur the footage or splash a watermark over it.

Infrared lasers have been known to blind surveillance cameras for a while now, but the precision of this technology is what makes it so remarkable.

To be able to temporarily control a single application in your phone with essentially just a light is unprecedented, and would certainly stop the dickheads in front of you ruining everything.

But is this a good idea? Or would it create more problems than it solves?

“You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you never stopped to think if you should”

There’s a famous scene in Jurassic Park where Jeff Goldblum’s character, Ian Malcolm, tells Hammond:

“You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it, you want to sell it.

“You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you never stopped to think if you should”

It’s still as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.

Is being able to stop people ruining concerts a good thing?

Probably…

Is it also incredibly scary that your phone can be remotely controlled and disabled at will by a giant multinational corporation?

Yep.

Does this technology have a massive scope to be abused?

Without question.

While there are a range of legitimate questions over whether or not Apple should use it for stopping recordings in the first place, the scarier prospect is what could happen if this technology gets into the hands of others.

The ability to film and record authorities, like police and government officials, is critical to a well-functioning society. It keeps them accountable for their actions and can prevent abuses of power.

Oppressive governments could use it to shut down coverage of protests and human rights abuses, and law enforcement could use it prevent people from filming instances of police brutality.

UC Davis protests

Protesters were lined up and sprayed with pepper spray by police at UC Davis in 2011. After footage emerged of the incident, the officer was fired and the students received $30,000 compensation. (Image: AP)

This isn’t tin-hat stuff either, in 2012, Apple was granted a patent for a device that allowed authorities to disable “one or more functional or operational aspects of a wireless device, such as upon the occurrence of a certain event”.

On the plus side though, I can think of a few potentially useful applications for the infrared beams.

Restaurants can stop customers from ruining everyone’s Instagram feeds with pictures of food, fitness centres could finally put an end to assholes taking selfies at the gym, and clubs could stop your mates from filming your humiliating dance-floor atrocities.

So you know, silver linings I guess.

About the author

Riordan is Techly’s News and Social Editor. He promises to tweet more at @riordanl

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