M-Com Security Developers Balance Privacy, Paranoia

By Dan Whipple  |  Posted 2001-03-05

The technology that drives mobile commerce, or m-commerce, offers an Orwellian profusion of potential privacy and security threats. M-commerce players will have to assure users that theyll get the benefits of the technology without the hazards.

Those hazards start with the phone youre holding in your hand. By 2004, phones will be equipped with tracking devices using advanced global positioning system and radio direction-finding technology developed by the military.

This should have conspiracy theorists forming in divisions.

Take the federal enhanced-911 system, designed to provide cell phone users with better emergency services. Anyone whose car has broken down in a snowstorm can appreciate the usefulness of that.

But could you use the same technology to track down child-support defaulters, wayward spouses or the bettors on a bookies list of defaulters?

"The privacy issue looms large with E-911," says Richard Smith at the Privacy Foundation. "The system clearly has Big Brother undertones."

TruePosition and Qualcomm say they are working to build privacy into the system. TruePosition only tracks the phone when the user makes an emergency call. But a lot of advertisers are adopting technology that will allow them to push ads to users at other appropriate moments — such as offering special discounts as youre driving past your favorite fast- food place.

Then there is the possibility of fraud and theft via m-commerce routes. Several companies — such as Arcot Systems, Guardent and Lightbridge — have developed sophisticated systems designed to identify customers using various kinds of cryptography or client authentication that is secure from prying.

"We have found a way to create a tamper-proof container that can get downloads onto any device you choose in seconds," says Mats Nahlinder, Arcots director of business development. "It allows the service provider to authenticate the user."

Guardent acts as a middleman, providing fundamental encryption from the wireless device to the Internet. The secure information is encrypted and sent through a private network server, then to the Internet. The protocol protects credit cards and other sensitive financial information.

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