OK, I admit it. I have a pretty intense emotional response to a particular kind of technology. The ubiquitous cell phone. I don’t much like telephones to being with, and the idea of having one on your person at all times strikes me as a particular kind of hell. But what’s really appalling is the way that having a cell phone seems to be a license to be rude. Cell phones ring in theatres, people answer them in the middle of conversations with real live people and hanging out with someone who is checking their voicemail constantly gives you the feeling that you don’t rate too highly in their books.
Cell phones have become a common low level status symbol. Not that many people really need to be reachable 24/7, but everyone wants to pretend that they are that important. And now cell phones are only barely phones – they are web browsers, games platforms and cameras. They are platforms for entirely new media genres. In 2000, security guru Bruce Schneier predicted that they would become vehicles for new and innovative security attacks (Secrets & Lies, pp. 304, 386), and (surprise surprise) that’s already starting to happen.
The privacy issues related to cell phone use are becoming more evident as time goes by and new vulnerabilities are discovered. But threats to privacy are inherent in the very concept of camera cell phones – portable cameras that are not readily identifiable as such, that can not only surreptitiously take photographs, but also immediately widely distribute them. Yet the Cult of Cool blinds us to these dangers.
I personally know someone who is significantly concerned about privacy issues. He has set his home telephone to never allow his personal information to be displayed to other users’ caller ID units. He screens all his calls. He does not provide his e-mail address to any automated service. He avoids software that requires registration and of course shies away from news crews or anyone with a camera. And he bought a camera cell phone. Because it’s cool.