Jan 14, 2009

Cell Phones And SD Cards: Double Agent Spies

By Chuck Missler

The computer age has evolved into the BlackBerry age, in which even Grandma checks her emails and stocks through her cell phone. If Herbert Hoover were campaigning in 2008, he wouldn't have gotten far promising "wireless in every house, and a GPS navigation system in every car" because… people already have them. Yet, while sports updates via cell phone are convenient, they might also open us to watchful eyes we don't want peering into our private lives.

Wireless Video

Weary of pulling out cords and adapters every time you want to upload photos? Get an SD (Secure Digital) card for your camera. Watch out, though, because you might accidentally upload something meant for your eyes only.

Eye-Fi SD memory cards allow consumers to wirelessly upload their pictures to computers or even to the Internet directly from their digital cameras. It's simple to transfer photos from camera to Flickr or Webshots without having to even be in the same room as a computer. Soon, Eye-Fi will offer the same technology for digital video cameras so that videos can wirelessly upload directly to YouTube. Farewell to firewire cable and PCMCIA cards.

According to the Eye-Fi site:

"With WebShare, your photos can be automatically uploaded to your favorite photo sharing, printing, blogging or social networking website. No wasted time sitting in front of your computer. No fussing with upload software. No delay in sharing your new memories with friends and family…You can even upload to the Web when your computer is turned off."

The convenience, however, comes with a caution; people need to be careful about what they put on their cameras. Those personal pictures and videos people might not normally broadcast can also auto-upload to the Internet if users aren't careful. The Eye-Fi card stores pictures (and soon video) just like a normal SD card. As soon as the card senses your Wireless network, it uploads the digital pictures to your home computer – or the Internet. "All you have to do is turn the camera on." If an SD card makes it possible for digital video feed to hit YouTube without docking the video camera, people might find videos they had no intention of sharing inadvertently feeding the eyes of millions.

Cell Phone Spies

Grocery stores have long tracked customer purchasing habits through loyalty cards. Now, marketers want to do the same sort of thing through our cell phones, but with a lot less visibility. The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on January 13, insisting that wireless ad companies make sure customers know when data are being collected on them and being used for marketing purposes.

Wireless companies do have "opt in" permission clauses which require consumers to agree to this collection and dissemination of data, but these clauses are often hidden in the small print of contracts for things like sports updates. People often don't realize that their personal tastes are being tracked when they use their phones to hunt down restaurants or check the headlines. CDD and PIRG want the FTC to make sure customers are made aware of these data collection practices, and that opt-in clauses are clearly designated.

The BarackBerry

President-elect Barack Obama may have to hand over his Verizon BlackBerry 8830 World Edition smartphone against his druthers. While Research In Motion, the company that makes the BlackBerry, argues that the heavily encrypted messages from a BlackBerry are nearly impossible to unscramble, Obama would be a particularly interesting focal point for hackers' efforts. Human error is a factor in any security system, and vigilant snoopers could jump on a goof and make the most of it.

As security and encryption expert Bruce Schneier noted, "If the BlackBerry was completely secure, it would be the first time in the history of mankind."

There's also concern that through the BlackBerry's contact with local phone towers, a clever spy inside the phone company could use the BarackBerry to track Obama's movements. Unlikely, but conceivable.

As technology gives us greater access to the outside world, it also gives the outside world greater access to us. Our caution and vigilance is required if we want to make sure those spies interested in our personal lives aren't able to get the full view they'd like.

Related Links
Eye-Fi Spies Video on YouTube - CNET News
I Spy with My Eye-Fi - Computer Service Now
Webshare - Eye-FiSpies in Your Mobile Phone - Business Week
The High Security Risk Attached to Obama’s Belt - The New York Times