Camera phones as a tool of information theft

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Camera phones as a tool of information theft

Those who read Inside the Tornado: Marketing Strategies from Silicon Valley’s Cutting Edge (AEGIS November 2002) know that Geoffrey A. Moore posits that the management of a company during a period of rapid growth may not be the management that is appropriate when the industry stabilizes into the provider of a commodity.

We are seeing this played out today in the mobile telecommunications industry, which has evolved into a commodity industry rate of growth of new subscribers, just as the average revenue per user has declined. This change in growth and revenue is not surprising given that, according to John Barrett’s Disconnected: Consumers and the Mobile Phone Industry ( %20paper.pdf)from Parks Associates (, half of all Americans – 60% of all Americans over 10 – now have mobile devices. The landline industry surely now needs to be run with the approach needed for any commodity industry.

It appears however, that most service providers are still run by management that is locked into the good old days where even a small service provider’s

stock might soar to a ludicrous $100 per share or more. Thus, when we look at the $60 billion spent over the last three years by the six major providers (AT&T Wireless, Cingular, Nextel, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon) it would appear that much of it was spent on expanding data capabilities ($50 billion) and data-capable devices ($10 billion). Yes, as with the landline industry, data will be an increasingly important piece of the pie, but there still needs to be a base level of coverage, which we don’t think yet exists.

Thus, when you get on a train anywhere, it is fairly sure that every few miles you will lose signal, for lack of coverage, but will be able to take a picture with your camera phone to send when back in a coverage area. We would suggest, however, that as camera phones become more common, you should give serious thought to banning them in your facilities, and, in some cases, summarily firing anyone found on your premises with a camera phone.

In what sort of circumstances would a camera phone be inappropriate? Well, we have already seen that many health clubs with locker rooms and retail stores with dressing rooms have banned them. We vaguely recall that that some courts have banned them. Some schools have banned them after a few camera-phone pictures of high school girls in the shower after gym class made it onto the Internet.

Some corporations and government areas that have sensitive areas where photography is prohibited, so for them banning camera phones is not even necessary: They are pre-banned. Other corporations that have concerns about physical safety or protection of information should also consider banning camera phones. According to one person who works for one of the mobile telecom service providers, because of an incident they are considering banning camera phones anywhere you can have access to a computer.

The bottom line is that your kids will undoubtedly want a camera phone, which will be fine until their schools crack down on them. For those who work in a business environment, however, buying a camera phone with no expectation of having it confiscated or vouchered at some point is unrealistic. This means that if not having a mobile device at your disposal during the business day would be a problem for you, you are probably better off simply getting a mobile device that allows you to make calls, but not to take pictures.

And for those of you who set policy regarding information loss, you ought to be thinking now about what you want to do to manage the vulnerability created by this very real threat. If there is a ban it should be clear to all and posted both as the property border for a facility and at all entrance points along with the consequences for employee and visitor alike.

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