The smartphone that spies, and other surprises

Consumer technology is here to stay in business settings, so how do you safely embrace it?

The invasion of consumer-oriented smartphones and now tablets into business is old news. But we're beginning to see unintended consequences of the adoption of such devices that users, businesses, and mobile platform providers should pay attention to. For example, the U.S. Army has begun educating soldiers on how to turn off the often automatic location-detection capabilities in their smartphones and digital cameras so that they don't inadvertently reveal their locations to enemy fighters or spies.

Built-in microphone and cameras also can have unintended consequences, from inadvertant revelation of company secrets (say, a Christmas party photo that happens to include a view of a whiteboard with a product launch schedule in the background) to personal embarrassment (forgetting to end a call, then be heard talking like a sailor by a client).

[ Stupid mobile user tricks revealed: 7 tales of smartphone embarrassment. | Learn how to manage iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, and other smartphones in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. ]

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The easy reaction would be to ban such devices to eliminate the risks, but of course, that also eliminates the benefits. Plus, banning personal equipment in the workplace is extremely difficult to do -- for example, even with its body scanners and pat-downs, the feds can't provide 100 percent assurance of what enters an airplane. Companies that believe they can cordon off their environs from smartphones, USB drives, Eye-Fi cards, cameras, audio recorders, and the like are simply fooling themselves.

The U.S. Army's measured reaction is a better example of how to address the issue; the Army realizes that letting soldiers stay in touch with loved ones when away from home is good for morale. Plus, the use of smartphones lets them manage their finances better thanks to the wide availability of mobile banking apps; soldiers are less prone to have financial difficulties that compromise their attention when in service.

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