CELLCAMS  &  WEBCAMS:  BOON  OR  BANE?

MANILA,
OCTOBER 29, 2008
(STAR) HINDSIGHT By Josefina T. Lichauco - An estimated 142 million camera cell phones were sold worldwide in 2006 with Japan and South Korea as the leading markets. More than 14 million were sold to the US. By 2008, more than 95 percent of cell phones shipped to the US and Western Europe will have cameras.

Taking photos via your cell phone can be such a great convenience and a great enjoyment as well. You can shoot the photos and then e-mail them to yourself or someone else.

This is precisely what one of my sons did, just last week. He shot a photo of one of my political pet peeves and sent it to me via e-mail with the words, “This is an early Christmas gift from me to you!” And it was a close-up photo. All my three sons and my only daughter have a terrific sense of humor, and I am always on guard about these antics. But I enjoy them, and the fact that, at least, despite their busy professional lives, they want me to share a laugh with them. I really feel good about it.

It’s really a great way to share something as you’re experiencing it — perhaps a chance encounter with a celebrity, a birth, a wedding, or a birthday party.

One woman, while going to her car in a parking lot, saw a man exposing himself to her about five feet away as she was about to get her car key. Instead, she got her cell phone and took a photo of the guy, entered her car, and drove straight to the nearest police station. She drove back with the police, who apprehended the guy, who was still in the parking lot exposing his private parts to another victim. The police took the guy into custody and the security guards on duty were told to be more attentive.

There have been stories of people who have witnessed car accidents and taken photos with their cell phones. There are websites where you can post and share the images you’ve captured on camera. These are called “moblogs,” short for mobile blogging. One such site is Picturephoning at “http://textually.org/picturephoning.” One well-known site is called www.mobileasses.com, where photos of men and women’s behinds and chests taken with cellphone cameras are posted daily. The majority of these photos are taken without the victim’s knowledge.

There were no cellphone cameras (cellcams) yet in 1983. But there were so many computer pornography programs, and a name that you won’t find in Webster’s Dictionary was coined — “pornopoly.” Pornopoly bets your money and your clothes against your trips around the electronic board, visiting such places as “Satisfaction Avenue,” “Kinky Court Place” and a great corner stop at “Free Necking.” French postcards, the dirty old man and comic strips past and present appear on “Animated Sex Cartoons.” Not only are the graphics graphic, but they’re also accompanied by the appropriate sighs and moans, slurps and such, and you get to write the captions.

In the late ’80s there also used to be a game called “Encounter,” where you got to answer a bunch of shrink questions before you could get on with the game. By the time you answered the 17 questions, the computer knew your moods and desires and suggested a “Lewd” for you, and some of them were quite outrageous. If, however, you wanted to go beyond the limits, the program allowed you to enter your own questions and Lewds.

I remember how all of the above was brought to my attention as concurrent chairman of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). Several memorandum circulars were issued as a result of this, but the problem became even worse as technology advanced.

These were the obscene innovations of the ’80s. Can you imagine how obscenity has degenerated to such low levels, and, with cellphone cameras as standby accessories, the proliferation and spread have become so grave that country jurisdictions have been moving to enforce their penal codes as strongly as possible?

I think it would be good to be wary because there is indeed a proliferation of websites filled with photos taken surreptitiously in places such as public toilets, locker rooms, etc. It happens in supermarkets, malls, offices, schools, libraries, gyms, and many other public places!

Students have been caught using cellcams to cheat on examinations. Remember that strip-club owner in Pasay who came out swinging against the technology, threatening to smash cellphone cameras with a hammer to protect the privacy of his patrons and his dancers? It never occurred to him that he was running an illegal business because the police discovered about a dozen rooms located on the second floor of his joint that contained identical sex gadgets in every room. This happened only about three months ago.

In 1970, two gentlemen from the University of Utah, Dave Evans and Ivan Sutherland, who had been the recipients of a military grant for the study of computer graphics, came out with a pair of 3-D glasses as one of the byproducts of this grant. The glasses were supposed to sit on a viewer’s head and were connected to a computer. In the headpiece were two items: a mechanical head-position sensor and a pair of tiny TV screens right in front of your eyes. Computer-generated images would be directed to the tiny screens. With the proper presentation of the TV images, the wearer could be fooled into seeing himself inside a 3-D image. When the person’s head moved, the image would change as a result of the positioning sensor telling the computer that the viewer’s perception was changing. This is all it intended to achieve. The viewer, however, could not be fooled into thinking that he or she looked cute wearing a headpiece attached to a position-monitoring arm.

This was in 1970, and with all the scientific and technological progress since then, it had to be the cell phone about two decades later that developed very useful cameras, employed for purposes both good and bad.

As you know, there are now programs called “webcams” that are really cute, fun, and easy to install and use. Actually, it is great for getting in touch with family and friends around the world, and can be a useful professional tool. And it is, of course, more personal than just e-mail because you can chat and see each other live, or send videos back and forth.

Of course it didn’t take long for webcams, being so versatile, to be used against someone. This is the trouble with the world we live in.

A 14-year-old girl named Angela was wandering around her bedroom in her underwear getting ready for school. Her computer was on, but she didn’t notice the green light on her Webcam. It was recording. A hacker had broken into her online connection and was busily recording what Angela, just wearing panties, was doing. She suddenly heard the computer utter that familiar sentence, “You’ve got mail,” and went to check her e-mail. When she saw there was an attached graphic, she, of course, immediately double-clicked on it.

Can you imagine her shock when she saw herself with just her panties on in her bedroom preparing for school? She immediately unhooked the webcam. From then on, she only hooked it up when she needed to. And Angela was an A-student in Computer Science.

As technology advances and the online world expands, the number of possible ways to harass others or cause harm to others increases. That abusive phone call, much like the webcam, could originate from someone’s computer rather than from a telephone. A fax sent to you with an ugly message on it could have been sent from someone’s computer.

George Bernard Shaw said: “The good and reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the evil and unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” And that explains why agencies all over the world try to find new ways to deal with the work of evildoers.

Right now, efforts are underway to develop a computer that emits odors when you surf the Web or access your e-mails; also CD-ROMs and DVD drives that will play CDs or DVDs encoded with scents so that as you go through a program or game, you will be able to smell the green grass, the aroma of bread baking, which I love, as well as the scent of gardenias and honeysuckle, etc.

One company called Digiscents was the first to try out this technology but ended up with little success. Other companies are in the process of testing the waters and we don’t know when this will come around.

One thing is sure, though: when players are made, recorders are not far behind, so that the evil and unreasonable man George Bernard Shaw was referring to could easily make a scented CD or DVD encoded with the smell of feces, rotting garbage, etc., to send to someone out of revenge or some other evil purpose.

Harassers, scam artists, stalkers, sex maniacs and other criminals are finding new ways to ply their trade.

H.L. Mencken also said something relevant: “You can’t sit on the lid of progress. If you do, you will be blown to pieces.”


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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