Waking Up From The Cameraphone PR Nightmare
By Mike Masnick, Tue Dec 21 23:45:00 GMT 2004

Makers of cameraphones and mobile operators have had their heads in the sand over public perception about the dangers of such phones. They're finally realizing it's time to speak up, but early efforts are pretty weak.

There are so many good and important uses for cameraphones that don't get enough attention. People use them to stay secure, to build closer ties to their community and to improve their work in a variety of jobs. We all know that cameraphones can be used in beneficial ways, but too many in the industry have simply ignored the fact that the phones can be misused as well -- and its the misuses that are winning the PR battle.

The cameraphone, itself, is just a technology. Like most other technologies, it's neutral. Users can do both good and bad things with it. The problem is that, with new technologies, many people react to the bad uses by blaming the technology rather than blaming those who misuse it. That's clearly happened around the world with the growing bans on cameraphones in corporate offices, gyms, court houses, government buildings and many other places.

In India, right now, there's a big uproar over a pornographic MMS message that was created by two students. The school they attended quickly proceeded to ban all phones -- as if it were the phones that caused the problem. The story has only gotten bigger and bigger in India and elsewhere throughout the world -- and many stories put phrases like "MMS sleaze" in the headlines. The case has been receiving extra attention due to the the arrest of the head of eBay's Indian subsidiary because someone was selling a copy of the MMS message via the site.

No matter what, this kind of press does not look good for those hoping to reverse MMS' slow adoption throughout the world. Suddenly, MMS is being associated entirely with pornography and illegal acts.

After all of that, it's only now that the mobile industry is starting to wake up and realize that maybe it would be a good idea to promote the positive uses of cameraphones and MMS. This is something they should have tackled ages ago. It's not like there has been a shortage of stories about misuse of cameraphones -- but only now that it's reached front page news in Indian newspapers do they think it's time to respond to the PR nightmare. Even then, the best response they can come up with is a set of "guidelines" for responsible use. This assumes that somehow people already didn't think it was improper to send around pornographic videos made by kids on mobile phones.

There are so many positive uses for cameraphones, and it's a PR disaster that everyone seems to have ignored the backlash over misuses. Responding with a weak set of acceptable use guidelines doesn't do much other than highlight what a weak response the industry is making. Instead of just telling people what they already know (you shouldn't "misuse" cameraphones), they should be promoting all of the ways in which it can help people in their daily lives, from making them safer to helping them be more efficient to helping them stay better connected to the world. People will continue to misuse cameraphones, just as they have any other technology. Those who misuse it should be punished for the misuse. Punishing the technology and those who use it properly doesn't help anyone and it's about time that message got across.