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Coming soon? ‘Safe’ zones that disable picture phones

But can you get a portable version before your stag night?

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Been snapped in a lap-dancing joint when you're supposed to be working late? Asleep at the Oval when you've 'got flu'? Serves you right then, but you can probably see advantages to a system that can be used to disable picture phones. Whereas the 'friends' who took the compromising pictures of you will no doubt see clear disadvantages.

So how do we figure that one out? You don't want or need a phone that stops you taking pictures in changing rooms, because you're not that kind of pervert. Or maybe because you are that kind of pervert. On the other hand you do want other people's phones to stop taking pictures in changing rooms, because you never know when one of them is going to turn out to be a pervert. Tricky - you want it to exist, but you're not going to buy it.

You think. What if you had a choice between a phone that didn't take pictures while you were in a designated privacy zone, or of checking your phone at the door? If the technology exists, then it's perfectly feasible that businesses, venues, schools even whole governments will present you with that choice, which is perhaps where Iceberg Systems' Safe Haven comes in.

Safe Haven works by sending a signal to a picture phone telling it that it's in a privacy zone, at which point the phone's imaging system switches itself off. This beats checking it at the door, because it still works as a phone, and the picture capability comes back on when you move outside the zone.

The obvious snag here is that this is not a blanket 'death ray' for picture phones; it will only work for future generations of phones that know about the signal and know what to do about it, so there has to be some inducement for manufacturers to incorporate the capability (or incapability), and for people to buy the hardware.

But there are obvious scenarios where it could play fairly soon. Security-conscious businesses could make its presence a requirement for company phones, and ban non-compliant phones from the premises. Which provides an incentive for the manufacturers in two ways; first, if they're not capable of supplying the handset, they lose the customer, and second, they have the opportunity to sell higher-spec picture phones to businesses who previously refused to buy them for security reasons.

Privacy concerns are also leading governments to restrict the use of picture phones, in the case of Saudi Arabia, even banning them. If, as seems likely, these concerns intensify, then the presence of a control mechanism could become a mechanism for manufacturers to avoid restrictions on the sale and use of their handsets.

According to Iceberg the technology, which is being promoted by audio IP licensing outfit Sensaura, is also applicable to other types of wireless imaging devices, so could be used to control digital cameras and camera-equipped PDAs and laptops. These, however, look like a rather larger mountain to climb than picture phones, which you could call the low-hanging fruit of privacy invasion.

No names as regards licensees yet, but Iceberg says it's in talks with "the leading handset manufacturers, blue chip companies and [ominously] governments around the world." So in a couple of years it's back to the old washing line for you, Arnold Layne... ®

Iceberg Systems

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