NEWS

Smart phones creeping into every aspect of our daily lives

With third-generation (3G) mobile telephony we’ll be able to use cell phones to go online, watch television programs, conduct transactions with banks and public services, pay for goods without cash or credit cards and participate in social sites like Facebook and MySpace. Smart phones promise to expand communications but they also raise serious issues about the security of personal data and our private lives. The new mobile phone is likely to be the most powerful means of identification and surveillance ever created. Apple’s i-Phone and similar devices will use Microsoft’s Windows and 3G high-speed cell phone networks to bring Web 2.0 communities like YouTube to mobile telephony. The story resembles the development of the Internet. As capacity grows, services develop. The arrival of broadband connections enabled the growth of video and television services on the Internet. But it also enabled the growth of activities such as the illegal sharing of videos, online fraud, the organization of terrorist actions, and, for the first time, it made a vast amount of personal data available to third parties for all kinds of purposes. The last-mentioned factor is the digital shadow that has alarmed both the companies that are creating massive storage capacity and defenders of individual rights who see it as a serious threat to public security. Now 3G networks have enhanced the features cell phones offer: e-mail, blogging and GPS navigation. Cell phone owners in Greece can now conduct bank transactions and file their tax returns through Taxisnet and will soon be able to pay for some services and products without using cash or credit cards. The big differences between a computer and a cell phone are that the latter is easily located and that it packs so many features into a small, portable device. Sensitive information «The problems arise from the applications themselves,» Professor Alexandros Sideridis of the Athens Agricultural University told Kathimerini. Sideridis, who is also president of the Information Society scientific advisory panel, explained: «Taxisnet is already available on cell phones, and there is more to come: issues related to social services, education, health information and much more. If you have access to telemedicine in a remote part of Greece, cell phones are of great assistance, but it does raise the issue of security, because all that sensitive information about your health will be online. We had an example of this recently when our prime minister’s phone was bugged. In that respect we have proved to be inadequate and disorganized.» As he noted in a comment contributed to Kathimerini, «I want my friend to know I’m on the beach, but I don’t want a company then sending me an advertisement for its product.» In the Netherlands and Britain, cell phones are sometimes used in education, since experts decided it was preferable to pupils using them to cheat. In Japan, the groundbreaking electronic firm DoCoMo is implementing a pilot earthquake warning program that sends teachers a warning a few seconds before an earthquake so they can take safety precautions with their pupils. Many countries use methods of paying by cell phone, and research is under way on delivering advertisements to cell phones according to their location. «Once again, the question is who controls this personal data? Us, or the services we use, wherever they come from?» asked Christos Patrikakis, a researcher at the Athens Technical University. «We will soon see the first geographical applications that supply information, such as the whereabouts of gas stations, traffic conditions and road assistance in the case of accidents. There will probably be a mixture of content generated by users and content provided by firms.» He said that last year in New York the first rally was held that was monitored by the police who «coordinated by means of a mobile community.» Experts are working on systems that can conceal location by mimicking methods used by certain species of fish and ants. The anonymity platform blocks attempts to locate a cell phone by means of a central server that shows the location of one cell phone user together with five or more other users.