Spam to Go
I just received a text ad for a cheap home mortgage on my cell phone. Not only am I receiving ads I don't want, I'm being forced to pay for them! What can I do to stop cell phone spam?
Unsolicited ads sent via cell phone text messaging services has been an unpleasant fact of life in Japan and Europe for a few
, and it could become a big problem for the United States' 165 million cell phone
. The CAN SPAM Act of 2003 authorized the FCC to look into
for stopping phone spam; in February 2005, the agency published a list of wireless domains to which spammers were forbidden to send commercial text messages without a customer's permission. (For more
, see http://ftp.fcc.gov/cgb/policy/canspam.html.) But given the miniscule impact CAN SPAM has had on our email inboxes, don't expect much relief from the FCC
The practical step is to call your wireless provider to register a complaint; many will simply take the spam messaging charges off your bill, says John Walls, VP of public affairs for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA). He adds that major wireless
are aware of the problem and actively filter out most spam messages before they reach customers. While you're at it, be sure to file a complaint with the FCC at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html or call them at (888)225-5322.
In the good old days, dialing 911 on your cell phone was about as effective as rolling down the window and shouting "Help!" Unlike traditional land line phones, emergency operators had no easy way to trace wireless calls back to their physical location. That
to change in 1996 when the Federal Communications Commission
that tracking technology, such as Global Positioning Satellite transponders, be built into every cell phone, which allows emergency responders to pinpoint their locations. Wireless carriers are required to implement "Enhanced 911" (E911) capabilities in their networks by December 31, 2005, but when this service will be available
's guess, thanks to problems upgrading the country's antiquated emergency response equipment. (For the 411 on E911, see http://www.fcc.gov/911/enhanced/.)
But this GPS data may also be available for commercial use. In 2002, AT&T Wireless (now part of Cingular) rolled out a "Find
" service in 15 U.S. cities that let subscribers locate people via their cell phones, as well as seek out
, ATMs, and so on, based on their location. In both cases, these services rely on GPS data to figure out where you (or your friends) are on the globe. This is just the beginning of a multi-billion-dollar "location-based services" market in which your cell phone becomes a playback device for advertisements based on where you happen to be. Walk by an Italian restaurant, for instance, and your cell phone might alert you it's just received a
for a free Coke with every purchase of a pepperoni pizza. And if the pizzeria can triangulate your location, what's to stop local law enforcement officials—or your spouse's divorce attorney—from tracking your movements? So far, not much. The courts have
begun to address such issues, in part because such services are only starting to appear. Wireless industry groups say commercial GPS services will only be implemented with the customer's permission, though they've yet to define how such permission will be obtained. Moral of the story? The
time you're going out on a private errand or a discreet rendezvous, you may want to
off your cell phone.
Cell Phone Candid Camera
Somebody just snapped a picture of me in a
position with their cell phone camera. Can I have him
Not legally. But you may be able to have him fined and sent up the
for a year. Thanks to the recently enacted Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004 (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:S.1301:), covert
are banned in locker rooms, bedrooms, up or inside various bits of clothing—
the involuntary photo subject had a "reasonable expectation of privacy." (So if someone captures you during a wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl, you're out of luck.) A more realistic solution: approach the shutterbug,
him or her of the law, and politely ask that the photo be deleted (
, of course, he hasn't already
it to his blog—see "Moblog Rules").
OK, I wasn't naked when they took the shot, but it wasn't pretty—and then they posted it on their mobile phone web blog, where various strangers have been commenting on it. How can I get it removed?
The proprietors of mobile web logs (moblogs) take a dim view of people posting photos without the subject's
—though with hundreds of thousands of such
sprouting up, enforcing this practice is next to
. If your picture appears on a moblog site such as TextAmerica or FotoLog and you don't want it there, contact the service and complain. Most moblogs list a contacts page (TextAmerica's is at http://www.textamerica.com/contact.aspx; to contact FotoLog send email to firstname.lastname@example.org). You will likely have to surrender some personal information, such as who you are and why you feel the photo invades your privacy. If your mug shot appears on a private web site and the owner refuses to remove it, contact their web hosting company or Internet Service Provider—most have similar rules about posting inappropriate or
In June 2004, Russian security vendor Kaspersky Labs announced it had
the first virus
targeting mobile phones. The virus, named Cabir, affects only Bluetooth phones using the Symbian operating system, which includes Series 60 phones made by Nokia.
from phone to phone using Bluetooth, and had been sighted in 17
at press time. According to Finnish anti-virus vendor F-Secure, Cabir-infected phones could be used for Bluejacking (inserting contacts or messages on someone else's phone), Bluesnarfing (data theft), Bluetracking (following the owner's movements) or Bluebugging (listening in on conversations by getting the phone to call you back). Mostly, however, the virus runs down cell phone batteries by constantly scanning for Bluetooth devices. F-Secure makes a patch that detects and neutralizes the virus (see http://www.f-secure.com/estore/avmobile.shtml).
F-Secure warns that before long we're likely to see Trojan Horses masquerading as
or screensavers that can falsify billing records and steal personal information from your phone. And as Microsoft moves aggressively into the mobile market, one can only imagine what virus writers will conjure up for Windows-based phones.
You hear a
clicking sound whenever you pick up the phone. Is it squirrels chewing on the wires, or are G-men camped out in a laundry truck outside your house tapping your line? Unless you're a drug lord, a Mafia don, or a suspected member of a worldwide terrorist
, it's probably the squirrels.
For starters, today's surveillance equipment is so sophisticated you'd never be able to tell if your line was
. For another, authorized wiretaps are exceedingly rare. According to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, there were 1,442 Federal and state wiretaps in 2003, with nearly 4 out of 5
to drug cases. (For the full report, see http://www.uscourts.gov/wiretap03/2003WireTap.pdf.) Add to that another 1,724 intercepts approved under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and we're up to
3,200 taps—still an
fraction of the more than 300 million land and cell phones in the U.S.
If you get your phone service using a voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) hookup, your conversations could theoretically be
to hackers as well as the Feds. In August 2004, the FCC directed VoIP
to make their networks accessible to law enforcement. Security experts point to VoIP as a likely target for hackers and crackers looking to eavesdrop on conversations or flood your digital line with "voice spam."
Louis Mamakos, chief technology officer for VoIP vendor Vonage, acknowledges that hacking into an unencrypted VoIP stream is possible, though difficult. Hackers would have to intercept the calls near the source and pick through a stream of data to identify the voice packets. He says a bigger concern is simple fraud, where people steal your phone service for free.
Of course, a private party could be tapping your line, which is a federal crime. If you suspect someone's listening in on your calls, contact your phone company and ask them to check the line. If your suspicions
true, the phone company will alert you and notify the authorities. But if you're the subject of an official wiretap, don't expect them to tell you—at least, until after the investigation is long over.
Your cordless phone could be transmitting your conversations to the world—or at least, nosy neighbors with a cheap radio receiver or even a baby monitor. The solution? Replace your old 46MHz or 900MHz unit with a spread-spectrum 2.4GHz or 5.8MHz digital phone that's harder to eavesdrop on. And use a wired,
phone for making confidential calls.
If you're worried about the Feds snooping on you, it's better to contact the FTC by phone than by filling out a form online. According to Chris Hoofnagle, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, material submitted to the FTC can be disclosed to law enforcement with a
order. So if the FBI wants to match an email address to a phone number, they've got a handy list of 85 million Americans they can scan. When you call, they don't have your email address.
Maybe I've been watching too many
, but I'm wary of talking on my cell phone for fear someone else might be listening in. Can people tap my mobile calls?
It depends on the type of phone you're using. Calls made with older analog cell phones could be
using police radio
you could buy via mail order. (The sale of such spy gear is now illegal—as is private
tapping into other people's phone calls, of course.) Today's digital cell phone transmissions are much harder to tap into. You're more at risk from someone overhearing your conversation. (For more info, see http://www.spybusters.com/cell_phone_privacy.html.) The real question is why anyone would want to listen in; the answer probably depends on how much time you've been spending at the Bada Bing!
Are people you're talking to recording the conversation? They may be—and may have every right to do so, depending on where they live. In California, for example, recording is legal only if both parties consent. But in Texas only one party—the one capturing the call—needs to consent. In fact, 38 states have "one-party" rules. (See http://www.pimall.com/nais/n.recordlaw.html for more info.) Think about that the next time you call your paramour in the panhandle.