Article, August 2005
Book Excerpt: Five More Computer Privacy Annoyances
Worried about your cell phone being tapped or maybe want to tap a cell phone?
Here are answers to five of your computer privacy annoyances
by Dan Tynan, author of Computer Privacy Annoyances (O’Reilly Press)
Your dossier is growing, as are the threats, from identity thieves to government snoops to companies who want to sell you something. Don’t be a sitting duck. Here’s a sampler of computer privacy annoyances I’ve fixed.
Cell Phone Candid Camera
THE ANNOYANCE: Somebody just snapped a picture of me in a compromising position with their cell phone camera. Can I have him killed?
THE FIX: Not legally. But you may be able to have him fined and sent up the river 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 cameras are banned in locker rooms, bedrooms, up or inside various bits of clothing—anywhere 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 outta luck. ) A more realistic solution: approach the shutterbug, remind him or her of the law, and politely ask that the photo be deleted (assuming, of course, he hasn’t already emailed it to his blog—see “Moblog Rules,” below).
THE ANNOYANCE: 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 FIX: The proprietors of mobile Web logs (“moblogs”) take a dim view of people posting photos without the subject’s consent—though with 100s of thousands of such blogs sprouting up, enforcing this practice is next to impossible. 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 copyrighted material.
THE ANNOYANCE: Maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of The Sopranos, but I’m wary of talking on my cell phone for fear someone else might be listening in. Can people tap my mobile calls?
THE FIX: It depends on the type of phone you’re using. Calls made with older analog cell phones could be heard using "police radio scanners" you could buy via mail order. (Sales of such spy gear are now illegal—as is private citizens 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!
Don’t Ask, Don’t Telemarket
THE ANNOYANCE: I get more calls from telemarketers – or their auto-dialer machines – than from people I know. I’m sick to death of it. How do I make it stop?
THE FIX: Here’s something that actually seems to work: Sign up for the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call List. Since it launched in June 2003, more than 85 million Americans have signed up. You can add your name and number to the rolls by visiting www.donotcall.gov or calling 1-888-382-1222. You’ll have to wait three months before your request officially takes effect. Telemarketers that violate the Do Not Call rules can be fined up to $11,000 per incident (to file a complaint, visit https://www.donotcall.gov/Complain/ComplainCheck.aspx). As of June 2004, the FTC had received more than 550,000 complaints about companies violating the list, though it had only taken action against one telemarketing firm thus far.
Do Not Call Does Not Work
THE ANNOYANCE: OK, I signed up for the Do Not Call list. Yet I still get calls at my place of work from charitable organizations and other businesses. What gives?
THE FIX: Unfortunately, the Feds also built in a number of exceptions to the DNC. For example, the list only covers home numbers, not businesses. Political or charitable organizations and people taking surveys are also exempt. You can try adding your business number to see if telemarketers will remove it anyway (seemed to work for me). You can also use the Direct Marketing Association’s mail preference service, which is used by some charities as well as businesses, to take your name off calling lists (see http://www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offtelephonedave). Otherwise you’ll have to ask each organization that calls you to put your name and number on its internal do-not-call list, which they’re legally required to honor.
Copyright © 2005 by Dan Tynan and O’Reilly Press. Reproduced with permission. Check a sample chapter on Orielly.com at http://snipurl.com/privacyannoy and find it at Amazon at http://snipurl.com/privacy_annoy. Article reproduction coordinated by Steve Bass, PC World Contributing Editor and author of PC Annoyances Second Edition. Read a sample chapter at http://snurl.com/sample_annoyed2. It’s available on Amazon at http://snurl.com/annoyed2. Visit Annoyance Central at: http://snipurl.com/AnnoyCentralClick here to return to top