Privacy dilemmas

On most privacy issues I am willing to say “tough.” If you don’t like how your persona and image get processed by others, well, stay at home and keep your mouth shut.

But I am disturbed by this recent development, namely cameras hidden in cell phones. Consider this:

About 80 million of the palm-sized camera phones are in use worldwide, mostly in Europe and Asia. They are fairly new in the USA; fewer than 6 million are in use in North America. But falling prices – they now average about $380 – and improving picture quality are likely to spur growth.

Critics warn that as the phones proliferate, they are turning users into would-be paparazzi, with anyone nearby potential prey.

Not surprisingly, some locker rooms are starting to ban the phones, as are some celebrity events. Some firms are worried about industrial espionage. I can’t imagine a good regulatory solution here (how do you track down offenders who post photos on the web?), but these phones are pretty small, so we should not expect that private bans will be effective.

Is there a brighter side? Yes:

In Scotland, rescue workers use the phones to transmit pictures of accident victims to doctors while en route to hospitals, Mawston says. Camera phones were used to photograph a rape in England, and the pictures were turned over to police for evidence, Katz says.

About 2% of the 20,000 photos now posted each day on the Web site, which allows people to create their own photo journals or share their pictures with others, are taken by camera phones. That number is rapidly increasing, site co-founder Adam Seifer says.

“People don’t leave their house without a phone,” says Seifer, who just purchased his camera phone. “So they’ll never miss those cool little moments that emerge throughout the day.”

My take: Social benefits will exceed social costs.


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