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Sat 20 Oct 2007 04:00 AM

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The magic and madness of mobile technology

The advent of new technology also brings with it new issues and emerging risks.

Picture this. You're in the middle of the desert at the peak of summer months, your car has broken down and you don't know what to do. You have no clue where you are, and your prepaid mobile phone has run out of credit. It is a nightmare scenario that all of us living in the Gulf has imagined at one point or another. But thanks to the promise of the latest mobile technology, such scenarios could well be a thing of the past. In a world where a mobile phone is no longer just a phone and an essential device with which to do business, you can top up your prepaid credit, access GPS features to ascertain your location and even watch some television while waiting for the mechanic to arrive at the scene of your misfortune.

Today, advances in mobile technology have resulted in new services being launched almost on a daily basis.

The advent of new technology brings with it new issues and emerging risks.

After many years 3G has just taken off, WiMax has moved faster than predicted and is already set to become the newest addition to this slew of technology, and the latest buzzword is now of possible 4G technologies in the not so distant future.

And as the second-fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, the Middle East is ready and willing to adopt this technology as soon as it hits the streets.

With almost all mobile markets in the Middle East now liberalised (the last monopoly in Qatar is about to end), competition in regional mobile markets is heating up, leading to improved coverage and an increased number of improved features and services at affordable prices.

The advent of new technology and the emerging role of mobile phones, however, also brings with it new issues and emerging risks that we should all be aware of.

The gradual morphing of the mobile phone into a device akin to a personal pocket computer makes mobiles vulnerable to viruses or, as the techies call it, ‘malware' from hostile sources, and also creates data protection and security issues. The use of the phone as a camera also creates privacy issues. Access to
television and internet content over mobile devices increases the risk of exposing users, particularly minors, to unsuitable content, given the difficulties in filtering or the control of such content. These are just some of the potential landmines that may arise in the future, the problem is there is no easy solution to any of them.

Certainly, the answer is not to throw away your mobile phone and hide your head in the sand. This never helps. It does mean, however, that greater risk management is needed. Some possible solutions may be:

On the part of governments and regulators - new legislative or regulatory frameworks addressing risks posed by these new technologies or services should be examined carefully.

On the part of the huge array of mobile phone companies on the market - greater vigilance and a more proactive approach to protecting customers and preventing the misuse of their services should also be implemented and broadcasted.

On the part of employers - proper and rational guidelines to the use of mobile technology in the office space.

And on the part of consumers - better education on such technology and its risks.

Any features and products in the mobile phone you use would, if transported back in time, no doubt seem like magic rather than science. And even today, it still seems that way to many people.

It is true that new advances in technology can carry risks and risks we should be aware of, but if used sensibly, they may just herald a new way of business life.

Matthew Glynn is partner, head of IT & Telecoms, Middle East, South Asia and Africa at DLA Piper Middle East.

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