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No, the police aren't disabling smartphone cameras during protests
All over the world right now — but especially here in the United States — civil unrest is at a fever pitch. Fueled by the death of George Floyd, protestors across all 50 states are gathering to express their anger, fear, and overall frustration with our society as it currently stands.
During these protests, the smartphone has become a powerful tool — some might even say a weapon. I saw a terrific quote a few days ago that went something like this (I’m paraphrasing): “Racism hasn’t gotten worse, it’s just getting filmed.” The camera built into your smartphone has given you a power that no generation before you has ever had, and it’s helping this movement gather steam on an unprecedented scale.
One can only imagine how much the opposing side of these protests would like to take away that power.
Enter a new conspiracy theory that suggests police officers and other government officials are “flipping a switch,” as it were, and deactivating the cameras on smartphones at large-scale protests. Check out the tweet below to see what I mean (WARNING: Profanity in thread, possibly NSFW):
This is how they turned off everyone’s cameras on the bridge in NYC yesterday btw. They aren’t hiding it. We’re just too stupid to stop buying iPhones (me included).— Push Push (@fuckinpushpush) June 4, 2020
Here’s another tweet related to the theory, and another, and another. Obviously, a handful of tweets don’t make a full-fledged conspiracy theory, but you get the idea that this is something people think is actually happening.
This just isn’t plausible
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your stance) smartphone camera deactivations by police are almost certainly not happening. While not impossible, the idea that police officers would have the power to do this is so beyond the realm of all likelihood that it’s almost absurd.
First, if you check out the tweets above, you’ll see they are referring to a patent Apple filed 12 years ago as “evidence” that the police could have the power to remotely disable cameras in smartphones. A patent is certainly not evidence that an actual device exists, though, so that’s pretty easy to brush aside.
Not only is there no hard evidence this is happening, but there's plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting this wouldn't happen.
Regardless, if that patent did become a real product, we would know about it. I mean, it would have been front-page news not just on sites like Android Authority, but on every reputable news source in the world. The implications of a device that could remotely shut down all cameras in a specific area would be some of the biggest news of the year. That didn’t happen though (trust us, we would know).
Next, let’s talk about the fact that a lot of these tweets are referring specifically to iPhones. Even if we were able to prove that Apple had created a device that could remotely shut off all iPhone cameras in a geographic location (which once again, is incredibly unlikely), Apple would need to have the desire to use/sell such a device. Judging from the company’s history, that’s very unlikely.
Apple has taken a hard stance on not helping the FBI crack iPhone encryption in the pursuit of criminals. The company simply refuses to compromise the security of its users, even if it would be used to stop wanton acts of violence and terrorism. Why would a company that takes that hardline stance then turn around and give police officers the power to shut down cameras at protests?
Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has publicly voiced support for the black community during these troubled times. Cook is an out gay man who knows all too well that protests work when it comes to earning rights for minority groups. Why on Earth would a man like that help police handicap protesters?
Finally, let’s talk about Android. Just because we’re a site dedicated to the operating system doesn’t mean we don’t know the truth: the Android world is a mess. Android smartphone manufacturers can’t even keep their phones updated for more than two years which causes massive disparities related to software. If a tool did exist that could shut off all the different camera apps on all the different versions of Android on all the different models from all the different manufacturers, I don’t think I’d even be mad. I’d be impressed. If such a tool existed, that would mean it would be easy to start unifying the Android world!
The bottom line is that there is no reputable evidence to support the idea that police officers are shutting off smartphone cameras at protests. None.
If this isn’t real, what’s actually happening?
So what’s happening then? Why are there so many people saying their phone cameras stopped working during protests? A lot of it could just be the law of averages: if you get thousands of people together and tell everyone to take a picture at once, a significant number of them are going to face a problem and fail. Phones are glitchy, it’s just the reality we face.
Additionally, not all phones are created equal. A brand new Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is probably going to operate much smoother than a Samsung Galaxy S5, an iPhone 6S, or a used smartphone bought for $100 on eBay. Invariably, a certain portion of protestors will have old phones that don’t work very well or even new phones that are in poor shape.
The law of averages tells us that if thousands of people all try to take photos at the same time, a significant number of them will fail.
There are also probably people who are saying that their cameras didn’t work at the protest but aren’t being totally truthful. What might be happening is that their camera worked just fine but they were unable to upload the photos they took with that camera to social media. This is easily explained away: you have thousands of people gathered in one area with little to no preparation. Cellular signals in that area are going to be strained big time, resulting in slow data connections, slow app activity, and yes, an inability to upload high-resolution photos to Twitter and Instagram.
It’s also possible that the Twitter users spreading this story are misinformed or straight up lying, spreading disinformation for their own agenda.
Finally — and this is the strongest evidence yet — there are plenty of protests photos all over the internet right now. Even the protests mentioned in those tweets above have photographic evidence online. Clearly there were lots of people able to snap some photos and videos of the protests and get them online.
In troubled times such as these, it can sometimes be difficult to get a grip on things. So much is happening right now and it all is so overwhelming. However, we can’t let our imaginations run rampant and start making ludicrous accusations with nothing to back them up. All that does is weaken the platform the protests have created.