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Twitter pushes for live sports video, Apple patents method to protect rights from consumer-led streaming

Throughout Wimbledon 2016, Twitter has been testing a new live video format allowing viewers to watch the video feed, while simultaneously being able to tweet. It is the latest development in Twitter live video products, following the acquisition of Thursday Night NFL games in April 2016, and the acquisition of Periscope in 2015. Live video has emerged as the latest application that Silicon Valley tech giants have thrown their weight behind. 

The advanced stage of mobile connectivity, and services such as Snapchat Live Stories, YouTube Live, Facebook Live, and Periscope have made live broadcasting extremely easy and convenient. In a world where everything is connected, a video feed can be sent into the virtual pipes of the internet within seconds with virtually no hope of containing it. 

Apple has been granted a patent for a technology that would allow the remote blocking of an iPhone’s camera. The process would be enabled by an infrared sensor that would broadcast encoded waves that would be then be received by all devices nearby and would temporarily disable the recording functions. 

Modern smartphones have been around for almost 10 years, and they have transformed digital photography. The impact was famously demonstrated by the crowd in Vatican City during the papal elections in 2005 and 2013. Now that every Tom, Dick and Harry is trying to capture what is happening people tend to largely ignore camera free zones such as concerts, movie theatres, voting booths, court rooms, and army bases where photography is forbidden. A feature such as this would allow a swift and practical enforcement of the rules without the need of confiscating everyone’s devices. 

There is however, an air of George Orwell’s 1984 about this and activists will no doubt be concerned about misuse of such technology. In the US, recently when the speaker of the House of Representatives shut down the official video feed, Democratic congressmen took it upon themselves to broadcast their sit-in via Periscope. 

Although the technology might have a genuine use case for broadcasters and rights holders looking to protect their revenue streams, the ramifications of misuse would be dire. A single entity – Apple – would wield significant control over user expression. Even assuming a best case scenario in which the technology is only utilised for the protection of intellectual property, history has proven that all systems have their vulnerabilities. Before broadcasters and rights holders back the application of this technology, they should factor in the costs of misuse.