Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Business

New Apple patent may appeal to moviegoers — but dictators, too?

TAMPA — Cellular devices annoy people, disrupt sleep and spoil movies. They invite car crashes, security breaches and academic cheating. In some situations, their emanations of light and sound may be "deleterious" to humans.

Says who? Apple Inc.

The maker of the iPhone obtained a patent Aug. 28 for a system that could one day let phone-sensitive locations such as movie theaters detect and remotely disable the functions of wireless devices.

Go to a theater and, in theory, your phone might automatically go to sleep. Enter a locker room or a high-security zone and the camera might quit working.

It's unclear whether Apple will do anything with its idea. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has awarded the company more than 3,500 patents since 1978.

Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huget said the company doesn't discuss patent plans.

In the void, consumers speculate. Shortly after the patent was granted, blogs erupted with a mixture of relief for movie night and fear for democracy.

Could such an apparatus be exploited to cause blackouts of civil uprisings, which have grown increasingly dependent on social media?

That's what some wondered.

"A way to disable people's phones is deeply problematic in a free country," said analyst Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a watchdog group.

U.S. Patent No. 8,254,902 says nothing about revolutions. It is quietly titled, "Apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device."

The 16,000-word document rues the sounds that intrude and the light that escapes. Light, it is noted, may be unwelcome in darkrooms and biology labs.

However, amid concern for light-sensitive bacteria and sleep deprivation, there are brief mentions of police and counter-terrorism applications.

"Covert police or government operations may require complete 'blackout' conditions," the document states.

The patent award drew little notice outside the circles of the cellphone-obsessed. It was overshadowed by Apple's $1 billion patent infringement verdict against Samsung and publicity over the new iPhone 5.

In the four years since the company applied for the phone-disabling patent, location-aware applications have proliferated. For instance, an Android app, Llama, lets users set location profiles, so that phones switch to vibrate at work.

Apple's idea wasn't an app. It proposed using base stations to communicate with incoming wireless devices, remotely modify settings and finally, when the consumer had left the area, return settings to normal.

Vitali Lovich was one of two inventors listed. He submitted his patent proposal during a 2007 Apple internship. Now a software engineer at WiFiSLAM in Mountain View, Calif., he described his ideas in an email exchange, cautioning that he doesn't speak for Apple.

He said he envisioned a system that would be voluntary for regular consumers and less voluntary for employees at sensitive locations such as military facilities.

"If anyone tried to implement a non-voluntary version it would be hard to sell," he said, "and if done secretively, then there would be even more negative blowback once it was inevitably discovered."

Negative blowback? That's what San Francisco's mass transit system experienced last year after silencing cellphones without customer consent.

A transit employee admitted to pulling the plug on phone signals in the subway system to thwart a mass protest, organized after a fatal shooting by a police officer.

In response, the hacker group Anonymous claimed to have posted nude photographs of the transit employee online, and people drew comparisons with former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, who cut communication during protests that drove him from office.

Inventor Lovich said he doesn't think oppressive regimes are lacking in their own ways to shut down dissension.

"I think that's like worrying about a home invader cutting you by getting a hold of your kitchen knife," he said, "when they've already walked in with a gun."

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

Comments
Many Americans still cannot afford a $400 set back

Many Americans still cannot afford a $400 set back

Could you pay an unexpected $400 expense?More than four in 10 Americans said they couldn’t without borrowing money or selling something, according to the Federal Reserve’s Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households released Tuesday.That’s a...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Target: New Tampa, Clearwater stores part of company-wide makeovers

Target: New Tampa, Clearwater stores part of company-wide makeovers

Target is renovating more than 1,000 stores by the end of 2020, including two SuperTarget locations in New Tampa and Clearwater.The Clearwater store’s makeover — which the corporation calls ‘‘reimagining" — just wrapped up, according to Target spoke...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Downtown St. Pete Ford’s Garage and Yeoman’s to open Wednesday

Downtown St. Pete Ford’s Garage and Yeoman’s to open Wednesday

ST. PETERSBURG — Ford’s Garage, a car junkie’s haven, has proven to be popular eatery across the state.Now it has a chance to drive customers to its seats in St. Petersburg. The restaurant opens its ninth location downtown Wednesday at 200 First Ave....
Updated: 4 hours ago

The hostile work environment checklist: How toxic is yours?

Workplace stress is hardly a new phenomenon. Everyone has a bad day (or even month) at work now and then. Your client presentation didn’t go as well as planned; your boss didn’t fall head over heels for your proposal; you had to stay late to finish a...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Career Q&A:

Career Q&A:

Q: Despite having a stellar employment record, I am concerned about two incidents mentioned during my recent performance review. Both involved accusations which were completely unfair.Several months ago, our human resources manager told me that I was...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Tampa-backed company with candy-like coffee thins inks deal with Dunkin’ Donuts

Tampa-backed company with candy-like coffee thins inks deal with Dunkin’ Donuts

TAMPA — Tampa-based private equity firm ProspEquity Partners paid $18.2 million less than three weeks ago for a two-thirds stake in Tierra Nueva, a Miami company with a new idea for coffee, and already it has some big news.Tierra Nueva has inked a de...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Proud mom orders ‘Summa Cum Laude’ cake online. Publix censors it to ‘Summa . Laude.’

Proud mom orders ‘Summa Cum Laude’ cake online. Publix censors it to ‘Summa . Laude.’

Saturday was Jacob Kosinski’s big day. His whole family, many from out of town, saw the Charleston, South Carolina, student graduate from his Christian-based homeschool program with a 4.89 grade point average and the coveted honor of summa cum laude....
Updated: 7 hours ago
It’s picking time at Brooksville blackberry farm, one of a handful in the region

It’s picking time at Brooksville blackberry farm, one of a handful in the region

BROOKSVILLE — Black follows blue in the berry patches of Hernando County, but blackberry proponents claim they’re worth waiting for.Today’s blackberry brambles are thornless and don’t require bending over to pick. Their fruits are mouth-full juicier,...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Amazon is selling facial recognition to Orlando law enforcement - for a fistful of dollars

Amazon is selling facial recognition to Orlando law enforcement - for a fistful of dollars

Amazon has been providing facial recognition tools to law enforcement agencies in Oregon and Orlando for only a few dollars a month, according to documents obtained by American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, paving the way for a rollou...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Report: Downtown Tampa has least amount of vacant land of top 25 metros

Report: Downtown Tampa has least amount of vacant land of top 25 metros

Tampa is facing major landscape changes as projects like Water Street Tampa gear up. But despite the ongoing and upcoming major development, a new CommercialCafé study says, downtown Tampa has a big challenge with the least amount of vacant land of a...
Updated: 8 hours ago