The popular camera cell phones are a growing privacy issue for both consumers and organizations, and several companies and organizations have already banned them from their premises.
The phones have a discreet lens, are small in size, and have the ability to immediately transmit images onto the Internet or other cell phones. This is raising concerns about privacy.
The phones first appeared on the market in early 2001, and for the last several months, media reports out of Asia have called attention to incidents such as photographs of unsuspecting victims turning up on the Internet.
Their growing popularity in North America since their debut late last year has sparked similar concerns, prompting fitness centers across North America, from Los Angeles, CA, U.S. to Toronto, Ontario, Canada to begin banning or limiting cell phone use on their premises.
Concerns about camera phones have also seeped into businesses as companies fear corporate espionage. South Korea-based Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics have reportedly banned visitors from carrying camera phones, according to South Korean domestic media.
Concerns raised by the camera phones are unlikely to go away as technology improves and sales jump.
The next generation of phones making their way onto Asian markets and trickling into North America are video cell phones, which have the ability to record 15 to 30 second clips.
In North America, analysts project that camera phone sales will more than double next year, while the overall cell phone market will only see a small increase.
Of the 90 million handsets sold in North America this year, camera phones made up 3.3 percent, or 3 million units. That's out of the 65 million camera phones sold worldwide, said David Kerr, an executive with Strategy Analytics, a Boston-based consulting firm.
South Korea, which has one of the world's highest concentrations of cell phone users, is already drafting regulations to protect consumer privacy. Beginning next year, new camera phones will be required to emit a loud sound whenever pictures or videos are taken.
Still, the banning strategy may be an uphill fight, particularly with cameras and videos expected to be standard in half the cell phones available by 2008.
"The evolution, the penetration, the spread of digital capture capabilities in phones is going to be so fast, so wide that it might be a losing battle ultimately," said analyst Alex Slawsby of IDC, a technology industry analysis firm. (Reuters)
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