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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Electronic Privacy Smartphone Product Comes To Market

As reported by NPR: Whenever your cell phone is on, 'They' know where you are — and I mean all the Theys, the spooks, the merchants, the drone pilots, the private detectives, probably even the Chinese. If you want your privacy, says artist/designer Adam Harvey, you can go to the back of your phone, pry out the battery and break the connection, but that takes time (and long fingernails). Why should it be so hard to disappear when you want to? It shouldn't, he says. So he's been designing privacy accessories — spaces to hide in.

With his pal, the fabricator Johanna Bloomfield, this summer Adam went on Kickstarter to raise money for the newest design, the "OFF Pocket." It's a privacy product, a little cloak of invisibility in this case, a purse made of "specialized metal fabric" that he says will block all incoming phone signals (CDMA/GSM), Wi-Fi, GPS and Internet connections. Just slip your phone in this little bag, adjust the straps, and advertisers, your government, or, if you're a Pakistani, that drone in the sky can't track you to your hip pocket. This was their video pitch

This appeal worked, more than worked. Adam and Johanna were looking for $35,000, and Tuesday, when the money-raising period ended, they had $56,447 from 668 people — which I don't think they could have done a year ago.

A year ago, we hadn't seen Edward Snowden's NSA leaks that showed how our government collects this stuff wholesale from all of us, no warrants necessary. We didn't know the FBI may be asking phone companies to track our calls, or that camera-bearing drones are becoming more and more popular, not just with law enforcement agencies, but with private businesses and teenagers who use them to peer through each other's windows, or that people now walk around with "Google Glass" glasses that shoot photos and videos of friends without much evidence that there's a camera on. At some point, all these devices, multiplying and multiplying, make us wonder, even if we'd never wondered this before, "Who's watching me? "

And once we start wondering, it's only natural to think about protecting ourselves — and that's the change, I suspect, that has just begun. How else to explain Adam and Johanna's success this month on Kickstarter?

Beats The Refrigerator
After all, I don't think any independent appraiser has measured the effectiveness of the OFF Pocket. In their video, Adam says their signal-proof purse works better than hiding your phone in a refrigerator (which is where Edward Snowden asked visitors to put their phones when they visited), or than dropping your phone into a cocktail shaker (something James Bond might have done).

That's nice, but a sensible customer might want to know more, like has Consumer Reports taken one of these things to a test lab and zapped it? Or shouldn't we worry that if we put a live phone in an out-of-the-way place, it will frantically try to find a tower to connect to, exhausting its battery? What if using an OFF Pocket drastically shortens the utility of your phone?

What's in the "specialized metal fabric" that's worth $85 a pop? If you wrapped your phone in tinfoil (3 cents a pop) would this work just as well?

Normally, I'd be a suspicious buyer, but the times are not normal. Adam and Johanna's first edition of the OFF Pocket sold out. The second edition, I'm guessing, will go fast. People now want these things.