Apple developing tamper-proof camera indicator for AR headset privacy

in General Discussion edited June 2021
Apple is working on a tamper-resistant recording light indicator system that could allow people around an "Apple Glass" or VR headset user to know if they are being filmed.

Credit: AppleInsider
Credit: AppleInsider

The company on Thursday filed for two patent applications detailing external recording indicators, which are already used on devices like the MacBook Pro. However, the patent applications specifically name Apple AR or Apple VR devices and detail systems that could make tampering harder.

According to the patent, the goal of the technology is to let people in an environment know if they are being recorded by an "Apple Glass"-type device. The system includes various mechanisms that could make surreptitious recording impossible.

For example, an "Apple Glass" device could sport an LED recording indicator that lights up if video recording is enabled. Like the camera light on a MacBook, this is an easy way of signaling that the camera is currently in use. However, on a MacBook Pro, a person could simply put tape over the light to block it. Similarly, head-worn devices have their own specific concerns when it comes to covert recording.

As such, Apple has detailed a way to ensure that the recording indicator lights can't be tampered with or covered.

One of the patents, titled "External Recording Indicators," details a system that could analyze a pattern of encrypted visible light from a recording indicator. If that pattern of light isn't detected, then recording would be disabled.

The actual recording indicators could also be positioned around a camera's lenses in a way that makes covering them difficult.

In both that patent application and another titled "Recording indicators," Apple imagines another method of ensuring that recording isn't taking place.

For example, both patents talk about a modular component that could be required for video recording. The system could require that a modular "key" be attached to an AR device before recording is enabled. The simple presence of the modular device could signal to people surrounding an AR device user that recording is taking place.

Both patent applications list the same inventors: Justin J. Schwab, Nathanael D. Parkhill, Andrew McMahon, Jae Lee, Jerome Tu, DK Kalinowski, Nalaka Vidanagamachchi, Yohan Rajan, Cam Harder, and Yoshikazu Shinohara. This is the first time many of them have appeared on an Apple patent.

Apple files numerous patent applications on a weekly basis, so they are a poor indicator of the company's future plans and give no indication of when a specific feature might make it to market.

However, Apple has long been rumored to be developing several head-mounted augmented reality and virtual reality devices, so it's likely that the patent application is just detailing the company's work to ensure that privacy is maintained when those products launch.

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  • Reply 1 of 4
    OctoMonkeyOctoMonkey Posts: 261member
    First, I would like to suggest not using the word "filming".  I realize there is a renaissance of sorts in the analog film world (which I wholly support), but the AR headset will not be "filming"

    A cursory reading of the patents causes me to wonder how the encrypted light signal will work in the absence of local surfaces to reflect the light.  Let's say somebody is recording the sky, or an object in the distance without any surfaces close enough to reflect the light.  Also, I wonder if they are going to be able to differentiate between the visible light indicator and an IR indicator.  A person could replace the visible light LED with an IR LED.  How will the system filter out 20 people in the same area all trying to record at the same time?  Will there be some sort of communications protocol where the various headsets will be negotiating between each other?

    I just have my doubts...  even if they do look like very comfortable ski goggles. 
  • Reply 2 of 4
    evolutevolut Posts: 29member
    You have valid points… I also have my doubts that the system will be perfect, just like I have doubts that there will ever be a perfect self-driving car !

    But a given system doesn’t have to be perfect to be of great value. You will never be able to stop a dedicated user with the proper skills and means to discretely record you… but if a system prevents the vast majority of casual users from surreptitiously recording me, I’m already happy !

    As for how to differentiate between the lights from 20 others devices around you, that’s relatively easy to solve, by correlating the modulated transmitted light with the one received, the system can recognize its own…

    The absence of reflected light…? Also solvable  I think… Preventing recording only matters in close proximity, and the focussing system of a camera is already able to determine the distance to objects…
    The algorithm will just have to block recording if both a close subject is present AND the special light component absent…

    Thanks Apple for caring about details not directly linked to profits !

  • Reply 3 of 4
    So probably just a sinusoidal tone.
  • Reply 4 of 4
    evolutevolut Posts: 29member
    So probably just a sinusoidal tone.
    I doubt that too… a pseudo-random pulse sequence would be more effective for correlation and proper identification.
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