Posts Tagged ‘cell phone


why so serious?

Having recently watched The Dark Knight, the one thing that stuck out for me was when, in an effort to track down the elusive Joker, Batman turns every cell phone in Gotham into a type of sonar device. The system worked kind of like a submarine sonar would work, so when the cell phones were in use, sounds and images around the phone were picked up. The signals were then captured and projected onto a huge cell phone wall monitor.

Now on leaving the theatre I thought that it was another one of those classic Batman toys, so one that doesn’t actually exist! However this toy is different. The cell phone wall monitor is said to be derived from an art installation called ‘The Listening Post.’ The art installation was created by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin of Ear Studio, and featured pieces of text gathered from different outlets (like public forums, unrestricted internet chat rooms) in real time. The text was then spoken by a voice synthesizer and put across a grid of over 200 tiny electronic displays, similar to what was seen in The Dark Knight.

Now I have discussed mobile surveillance in a previous blog post, but the idea that The Dark Knight put forward, of a global sonar system operated by mobile phones is insane! It basically means that anyone would be traceable, privacy would not be an option anymore.

However, while obviously there is always the potential for this type of technology, today the reality is that there are a few kinks in Batman’s plan, the main issue being that you would not know the direction that the echo came from, which is obviously an essential feature of a sonar system. A cell phone is basically unable to detect direction, and would definitely not be able to give such detailed pictures as show in the movie.

There are also the smaller issues like actually forcing people’s cell phones to become an echo transponder, which would entail having an ultrasonic beep being generated on the phone. This is an issue because cell phone transmission is extremely low (less than 10 kHz). There is also an issue of sound, as the microphones used on a cell phone do not have a great range on them, and then also when played back the quality of sound is not always that clear.

So our privacy is safe for the moment, but the question is for how long?


I’m watching you, watching me, watching you?!?

Mobile surveillance looks like a grand idea, on the surface. However the implications for individual privacy are too horrific for words. But before I get carried away, let’s look at the good stuff about mobile surveillance.

Vodacom’s service, Look4me, enables people to track the cell phones of others, their own cell phone for the monthly subscription fee of R11.13. This service has many benefits. If your bag is stolen, you can simply track the mobile phone to see where it is. If you are worried about your rebel teenage son, or want to know where exactly you husband is at 11 o’clock at night, then that can easily happen.

Mobile surveillance may help to also decrease crime, as anyone, anywhere can capture just about anything on their mobile phone. In England a new initiative called Stop Crime has emerged and it is a community project to help combat crime by using your cell phone. You sign up for the service, and the police will send you text messages about any incident that has occured in your area. You are then free to send them any information that you may have that could be used to solve the crime, whether this be an sms, a video or an audio clip.

Cell phone records can be pulled, with a subpoena and used as incriminating evidence against criminals. Mobile surveillance has also been used by the FBI to track New York crime families. This was done by remotely activating a mobile phone’s microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations. This is a technique called the ‘roving bug.’

Police in Australia have also admitted to using the mobile phone network to keep track of known criminals using signals emitted by the criminals’ phones that were being picked up by local base stations. This proved to work effectively as cell phones emit data every half an hour, whether they are turned on or off.

To know that we are constantly being watched or could be found anywhere is alarming. We come under the panopticon gaze, we know we are being watched, but we don’t know who by, when and why.

Socially, the implications of mobile surveillance is phenomenal. Do we change the way we behave because we know we are being watched? And while we may be uncomfortable with being watched, are we as uncomfortable doing the watching?


Let’s not be e-wasteful

At the age of 21 years I have used approximately six mobile phones. I have lost one, one was broken and thrown away after being put through the washing machine, one was lent to a friend and stolen, two sit in my drawer at home and one is currently resides in my handbag.

Mobile waste has become a rising concern among many environmentalists as it is the fastest growing source of urban pollution. As as form of e-waste, mobiles that are not properly disposed of can have serious toxic environmental and health consequences due to the amount of lead, mercury and cadmium in electronic devices.

Chemicals and toxins from e-waste are known to lead to serious health problems like reproductive failures, deformities, thyroid malfunctions, immune suppression and behavioural abnormalities.

Not only do mobile phones have toxic parts, but they also have a very short life span – often discarded (or handed down) when cell phone contracts are renewed once every two years.

The problem is introduced when the electronic devices are dumped in landfills, or are shipped off to developing countries that have lower environmental standards so that the waste can be processed. Currently electronic waste represents two percent of America’s trash in landfills, and equals 70 percent of overall toxic waste. It is estimated that America alone exports 80 percent of its e-waste to China, India and Pakistan.

E-waste is becoming more of a problem in Africa. Nigeria is fast becoming one of the most popular countries in the world to dump e-waste. Children sift through the e-waste, the poor burn it for fuel and groundwater is becoming contaminated by landfills filled with electronic waste.

The good news is that Nokia is helping to combat the problem by setting up waste dumping centres across East Africa to reprocess old mobile phone waste, including batteries. Nokia will collect mobile phone waste for recycling and repairs as part of its environmental policy of reducing emissions of electronic waste.

So instead of leaving all those cell phones in your drawer at home, or throwing them away, why not take your old phone to a collection point for safe recycling, for a cleaner and safer environment for us all. 

To read more about how the web is trying to go green check out Qudsiya Karrim’s post on the Social Media blog!