We love our smartphones, and to most of us they are amazing little devices that slip into our pockets and pretty much do anything we want them to, apart from make a cup of coffee (I'm sure that's coming). But to others they present an opportunity to wreak havoc and get what they want all too easily.
Bully in your Pocket
Bullying on mobile or electronic devices is one of the ways that a mobile phone can be misused. A growing (and scary) number of children are being bullied even outside of school and away from the bullies by being harassed in various non-smart ways. Whether it be malicious texts, the spreading of a video clip, or spreading rumors using Facebook, some kids and teens using smartphones have taken bullying to a whole new level. This literally leaves no escape for the victim of bullying; where once their bedroom was a safe haven away from the bullying and name calling at school, they are now carrying this bully around with them wherever they go.
High Tech Cheating
Gone are the days of writing dates on your arm to cheat in your history exam, or copying a harmless formula inside your pencil tin, smartphones are the new way to cheat in exams. Given all the rules on what you are allowed to take in to an exam and what you are not, it seems like a great deal of students are still somehow managing to smuggle in phones to the exam room. Unlike the old-fashioned way of cheating, of course, using a phone means the world is your oyster. Not only can you look up anything on the Internet, even lazier cheaters might still text the questions to an outside source for a response.
And don't think that it's just school kids that do this either. In a recent survey of IT professionals it was found that cheating was up by around 10% using high-tech methods including the use of smartphones.
Caught with your Pants Down
To us it might be harmless juicy gossip that the England international footballer Ashley Cole used his phone to send half-naked pics of himself to his mistress, but I doubt his wife Cheryl Cole would agree. Celebrities use their mobile phones in the same way the rest of us do, but of course owing to their big name status it's far more likely they will get caught -- or that someone will entrap them.
There have been numerous other incidents of sportsmen and celebs getting caught with their pants down and this can often lead to a downward spiral in their popularity, their career, and certainly put a huge strain on their family life. Remember squeaky clean teen Miley Cyrus? Not so clean in that lewd video clip caught on smartphone was she! Others have been caught taking drugs (filmed on a secreted smartphone) and sending lewd and leery text messages -- often putting their careers into a tailspin and wrecking their lives -- now that's pretty evil.
Donald Trump's got nothing on Facebook when it comes to getting people fired. While it's oh so tempting sometimes to vent your frustration about a boss to your friends on Facebook and Twitter, beware! The thing about social media is that it has a wide reach and you never know who might be reading your tweets and statuses. In fact in some companies it has become part of the recruitment process to check out candidates' Facebook pages before an interview. Facebook can indeed get you fired as it's all too easy to fire off a status update about how bored you are at work, or how annoying your boss is using that portable office of a smartphone you carry in your pocket.
Of course a lack of common sense is more to blame than the smartphone for getting you into trouble, but it is true that these portable devices make committing such acts all too easy. Just don't do as Kelvin Colvin did one Halloween and get photographed at a costume party even though he'd left work early for a "family emergency" -- he got caught! To a certain extent Facebook's new privacy settings might save your bacon on this one as you now have to approve videos and photos you are tagged in, but it's a warning nonetheless. You never know what might get retweeted or captured on smartphone video to land you in a whole heap of trouble -- and maybe lose you your job.
London's Burning -- Spread the Word Through BBM
The London riots would not have happened so easily if it weren't for smartphones making things all too simple. The widespread use of the BlackBerry Messenger service among teens is well-known, so it made sense to these rioters to use the same system to spread the word that rioting and looting was happening. Not just that it was happening, but where, and even using it to incite violence against others. To these teens it also seemed a foolproof method as BBM messages are encrypted -- they could never get caught. In this respect they were a little smarter than some of the other idiots who decided to openly use Facebook and Twitter to spread the rioting word and were soon tracked down. However, what they didn't bank on was that actually, although it may not be as easy as the click of a button, it is possible for BBM messages to be unscrambled. Much like the social network rioters, they were (or soon will be) tracked down and brought to justice.
So is this a victory for technology or just another case of smartphones making things too easy? Did technology cause the London riots? Riots are not a new phenomenon and the word would have been spread by word of mouth all too speedily enough without the use of BlackBerrys. What we didn't have before was the technology that made catching these looters so easy.
Text Your Way to a Car
If I told you that not only could a smartphone help to break into a car, but that all it needs is a simple text I imagine you'd be pretty surprised. Don't worry, it's not commonplace and at this moment in time only a select group of cars are affected. The weak link here is that cars are increasingly equipped with alarm and GPS devices that also use cellular telephone networks for their connection. To a hacker in the know, all it takes is a text sent to the alarm system to instruct it to open the doors, and yes, even start the engine! Each device is given a phone number -- although this is only known to the operator. However, evidence shows that finding these numbers isn't all that hard and if you find the right car and device, breaking in is pretty easy. However, evidence also shows us that breaking into a car that doesn't have an alarm device is way easier anyway, so it's unlikely anyone would bother to go to such extremes.
To add further evil to this deed though, it's worth bearing in mind that devices like ATMs and traffic lights use wireless communications chips too, so if a hacker was so minded mobile abuse could be taken to a whole new level.
You couldn't fail to have noticed the recent furore over the News of the World phone hacking scandal. It started off as a few celebrities having their voicemail hacked into and it didn't raise too many eyebrows. But then more and more evidence of phone hacking began to surface until the straw that broke the camel's back was revealed. The hacking by journos hadn't just stopped at finding out where a celeb was off to that evening, but they had actually hacked into the voicemail of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler -- and deleted some entries thus leaving the police to believe Milly was still alive. It took the investigation into a different area and gave the parents false hope that Milly was still alive. Naturally News of the World officials denied knowing anything about it, but vowed to launch a full investigation. The decision to close News of the World operations was made pretty quickly and those concerned (or considered to have knowledge of the hacking) were arrested. One can only hope justice is eventually done for such heinous behavior.
The methods used by the hackers involved were actually pretty primitive, and of course if it's that easy then there is a chance your phone could be hacked into to gain access to personal details too. Older versions of the Android operating system for example, are quite easy to hack into and can work even when your phone is on standby without you knowing anything about it. As we start using our phones as much as we do our computers it stands to reasons that hackers will follow suit.
Is It Really Evil?
Obviously some of these cases of mobile abuse are a great deal more serious than others, and even as someone who is gadget-savvy I still found some of these stories to be somewhat eye-opening. Where there is new tech, it will always to be open to misuse. Of course I could point out that although the London riots may have happened so quickly because of new technology, the use of Twitter and mobile phones was also invaluable in cleaning up and getting London back on its feet. I followed @riotcleanup who spread the word of where people were needed to help clean up the streets after the chaos. A real community spirit was gathered together just as quickly as the spirit of looting. They even made people aware of auctions and collections to help traders get back to work. So of course smartphones can be a force for good too.
For all this though I must admit that as we become an increasingly lazy world, smartphones are making everything too easy... even evil.
Let us know what you think. Do smartphones make everything too easy, or would those intent on evil and criminality find alternative ways to commit their deeds anyway?