BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : SEPTEMBER 25, 2000 ISSUE
LEGAL AFFAIRS

Now Anybody Can Be a Paparazzo


Red alert! Red alert! It's Courteney Cox! She's standing at 55th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues in Manhattan. And she's talking about going to the U.S. Open!

In a culture enraptured by celebrity and voyeurism, it was only a matter of time before the New York Celebrity Sightings service was born. Offered for free through Manhattan wireless service startup Upoc, it lets anyone with a Web-enabled cell phone send and receive text messages about the dashing--even dull--doings of New York's celebrity class.

SURVEILLANCE. Some 150 New York enthusiasts now key in messages over their cell phones, creating a kind of mobile e-mail surveillance group. Taken together, their log of entries over the four months that the service has been in existence reads like an up-to-the-second InStyle magazine: Aug. 25, 12:22 p.m., actress Kyra Sedgwick spied riding an exercise bike at her health club. September 12, 2:35 p.m., comedian Dennis Miller ''in shorts and sandals'' on Fifth Ave. and 58th St.

The tone of the celebrity-sighting group remains lighthearted, even self-mocking. But its very existence spooks some, who contend that it violates celebrities' private space--and perhaps jeopardizes their safety. ''We deal with the impact of technology every day,'' says Scott Gordon, deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County's Stalking & Threat Assessment Unit, which prosecutes celebrity stalkers. ''This one could certainly be a challenge.''

At the least, the celebrity-sighting group shows how physical privacy may soon disappear in a world of instantaneous, frictionless information. What makes the technology so powerful is not just that the sighting information exists but the fact that there are no barriers to spreading and receiving it. And text messages are just the start: In just a few years, it will be possible to equip cell phones with cameras, instantly zapping images directly onto high-speed wireless networks and onto the Internet.

Upoc CEO Gordon R. Gould says he has pondered the privacy issue. Though he agrees ''that you ought not to promote communication that promotes hysteria or lawlessness,'' he doesn't favor regulations ''that restrict speech.'' As technology gives us all increasing power to create and broadcast information, expect new forms of invasive ''speech'' to spread. And with it, the stomach-turning feeling that someone is watching--and now can literally tell the world all about it.

By Dennis K. Berman in New York

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

BACK TO TOP
RELATED ITEMS
Big Brother Calling

TABLE: Location Is Everything

Now Anybody Can Be a Paparazzo



INTERACT
E-Mail to Business Week Online

 
Copyright 2000-2009, Bloomberg L.P.
Terms of Use   Privacy Notice