Cameras attached to cell phones are inciting privacy and security concerns.
Cell phones tap in to a ringing debate
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's like an extension of their bodies, an enormously important lifeline. They don't even think about putting their personalized, high-tech mobile phones down--but they're not talking.
They're snapping, comparing and e-mailing photos with their camera cell phones, stopping every so often in midconversation to answer an incoming call.
Camera phones, one of the latest innovations in the fast-growing wireless industry, have brought us further into a culture in which phones have become appealing accessories that people can't seem to stop playing with.
The photo phones, which cost about $200 each, allow users to e-mail images to other phone users and to Web-site photo albums within 30 seconds, or to store them in mobile blogs.
"It's an `infotainment' device," says Chuck Hamby, Florida regional public-relations manager for Verizon. "People love convenience, they love communicating with each other, and this is a whole new way of communication."
Not only that, but it's just plain fun.
Scott Kanbara, 35, uses his phone for practical jokes, such as sending a photo of himself drinking beer on his patio to friends working at offices.
"If my wife asks me to do something around the house, I'll take the picture when I'm done and e-mail it to her," the Oviedo, Fla., man says. "It does make life a little more fun."
Same goes for Brian Miller of Winter Park, Fla.
"I take pictures of my friends and when they call me, their picture shows up on the phone to show me it's them," says Brian, 17.
Besides novelty, camera phones have their practical uses. Recently a 15-year-old boy helped capture a man who he said tried to lure him into his car in New Jersey. The boy gave police cell-phone photos of the apparent abductor and his vehicle's license plate.
Being so digitally connected has its drawbacks, though. The small, commonplace gadgets easily allow users to take secret--and perhaps inappropriate--photos at places where cameras normally aren't allowed.
"There used to be sort of anonymity and privacy in the great outdoors, and the cell phone has done away with that," says Paul Levinson, a communications professor at Fordham University. As a society, we're just going to have to get used to the fact that we're going to have almost no visual privacy in public places."
For example, the thought of undercover locker-room photos that could end up on the Internet or elsewhere has caused a stir in many fitness clubs. The Central Florida YMCA put up signs warning gym users about the phones in its 23 facilities a few months ago.
"It's just basically a public service for our members," says Ardana Jefferson, YMCA spokesperson. "I don't foresee a problem in the future, as long as we make our members aware, which we are doing."
Verizon, one of the latest U.S. carriers to introduce picture message services about a month ago, won't release statistics on camera-phone sales.
But Hamby says they've sold in one day what they expected to sell in two weeks. Other companies have been marketing phones with built-in cameras or photo attachments for about two years.
"It was just a logical extension of messaging," says Keith Nowak, media-relations manager for Nokia in Texas. "We'd seen the popularity of this text messaging, over a billion messages sent every day; we knew we'd have these networks that would handle much bigger things. It was almost a no-brainer."
Like text messaging, sending images costs about 10 cents per photo or a monthly rate of a few dollars, in addition to service-plan rates.
"If you need to take some pictures, you have both together," says Orlando resident Emerson Sigiani, 27, an assistant manager for a sandwich chain. He has used a cell phone for the past two years, but a couple of months ago upgraded to the camera feature.
"If I'm hanging out with my friends, I want to take a picture, I can do it."
Music fans who want to take pictures at concerts can do it, too--even when cameras are usually forbidden. Commonplace phones, especially those without flashes, are harder to keep track of.
Ironically, at a recent Hard Rock Live concert, an AT&T Wireless representative demonstrated how to take cell-phone snapshots while gate attendants checked bags to prevent concertgoers from sneaking in cameras. Security guards there have been seen taking people using camera phones out of the concert hall.
"It happens every show, you always have someone who's trying to get around the rules," says Chris Tomasso, vice president of marketing for Hard Rock Cafe International. "There's no problems with fans taking pictures of themselves or in the lobby; we're just fulfilling the bands' request for no photos, just as we're fulfilling their request for no fans on the stage. Their main concern is that unauthorized images of them will get out on the Internet or out to the world."
Normally, Hard Rock Live security asks people to stop taking photos or confiscates film, Tomasso says, but "it was pretty cut and dry that you can't confiscate someone's cell phone."
Jon Dorman, deputy director of the Orlando Centroplex, hasn't noticed artists mentioning camera cell phones when they specify terms of their performances.
"Typically they don't care," he says, "because the size of the camera and the picture quality aren't going to be good enough to sell."
Some service providers, such as Verizon, have customers sign a contract saying they will not take or send inappropriate images. Although Verizon doesn't screen messages, Hamby says, the company could take legal action if someone came to them with a complaint.
"Our opinion is any product can be misused if a person is intent on misusing it," Hamby says. "We can't legislate behavior."
About 1 billion people around the world--nearly one in six--now use a cell phone, according to 2002 data. Travis Larson, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, estimates that 148.5 million people in the United States own cell phones.
By next year, most cell phones will have cameras and could outnumber regular cameras, says Kelly Starling, public-relations representative for AT&T Wireless in Florida.
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