Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Banning cell phone cameras

It’s sometimes said that one of the first things people do with any new media is use it to record and distribute porn. The easing of press restrictions in Russia, for example, has resulted in a boom in political and cultural writing, and an even bigger boom in hard core pornography.

So, of course the following: the Japan Times Online has a piece on banning cell phones in public baths:

If you’ve visited a public bathhouse in Tokyo lately, you’ve probably spotted this stern warning: “Bringing cell phones and other kinds of electronic devices here is prohibited as their use can cause trouble and misunderstanding among other customers.”…

Sunday Mainichi says the proliferation of camera-equipped cell phones coupled with the continuously improved quality of the images they capture, have been a boon for peeping Toms with a penchant for photography.

“It seems they pretend to read their e-mail while actually they’re taking pictures of the naked women,” the bathhouse operator says.

The interesting thing is that you couldn’t get away with this with an ordinary camera, or a digital camera. Or at least, if you tried to pretend to read you e-mail on your digital camera, you’d be caught pretty quickly.

[via Hunkabutta]

Update, 25 July: CNN published this article on the phenomenon earlier in the month. (It also includes quotes from two people who are working on a project at IFTF.)

[thanks to Marina]


  1. Hyungsub Choi

    July 25, 2003 at 1:55 am

    Same problem in Korea, and the government-industrial complex came up with a partial solution of mandating the installment of “clicking sound and bright red light” at the instant of taking photographs by every digital camera-equipped cell-phones. Wonder how effective this will be.

  2. It’s interesting that they see making camera cell phones behave just a little bit more like cameras as a way to publicize the fact that a picture is being taken. (Presumably the feedback is also useful to new users.)

    And can the government really mandate interface design changes like this? Does it happen often?

  3. Hyungsub Choi

    July 25, 2003 at 5:38 pm

    Following is an article from Chosun Ilbo, 25 July 2003. Does it happen often? Well… no one is surprised, that’s for sure.

    ‘Cameraphones’ Could Get Less Candid
    by Tak Sang-hun (

    Amid a bid by the Ministry of Information and Communication (MOIC) to regulate the use of cell phones with cameras installed – “cameraphones” – the National Assembly is expected to soon discuss a new bill tighten the use of such phones.
    Huh Un-na, a ruling Millennium Democratic Party member on the Assembly’s Science, Technology, Information and Telecommunications committee said that the party plans to submit a bill mandating that cameraphones be designed to emit a loud noise when photos are taken. The noise would alert people in public that their picture might have been taken.

    Huh said the bill would require that mobile handset manufacturers install the noisemaker in cell phones, in order to prevent what she called “human rights infringements” and to prevent corporate espionage.

    Meanwhile, an official at the MOIC said the ministry would start a comprehensive analysis to draft measures to stem the misuse of cameraphones in public places, including bath houses and dressing rooms.

    The nation’s leading cell phone manufacturers, however, expressed concern over the proposed regulation, as the businesses have been suffering from a sharp decline in domestic sales. An official at Samsung Electronics said that restrictions on the use of cameraphones would cause domestic sales of the phones, which is still struggling to get off the ground, to be stalled. Exports would also sink, he warned.

  4. Very interesting! Thanks, Hyungsub!

  5. i love this website!!! 🙂

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