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Electronic Privacy in Asia:

What is the effect of the Fantabulous Kawaii Gizmos, Wireless Privacy Daemons (Waveband: 2.4-GHz) & Orientalism  

By Adrien David Cheok and Roger Thomas Tan

There has been a growing debate amongst artists and scientists about the effect of electronic privacy due to the rapid increase and use of mobile digital media devices, which can potentially transmit and receive personal information. We argue that in Asia the concern of attack on privacy due to these digital devices is generally lacking, and this stems froma deep thread of Orientalism in Asian societies even in the digital age.

Fantabulous Kawaii Gizmos

One marvels at the wondrous technological innovations of the innovative technologies being conferred on the mass consumers: a bazaar of the 3G phones, PDAs, MP3 players, Bluetooths, Blackberries and not forgetting their extensive ranges of supplementary accessories that come in twelve different neon colours if not more.

Illustrating a typical such gadget, the mobile phone, in action - guilty of not just actively present in the Asian market but fully integrated into the Asian lifestyle (especially in the younger generation) [1]. Not just a mobile phone to most however but a “Fantabulous Kawaii Gizmo” capable of polyphonic ring tone that resonates with customizable personality. It takes multi-coloured photos and sends them via MMS, captures real-live motion videos, records conversations, organizes your time-table, wakes you up in the morning and plays mp3s through your Bluetooth earphones while you jog on the treadmill.

Almost every commuter in the Tokyo trains seems to be constantly tapping onto their mobile phone, messaging, emailing, i-mode internet accessing. From teenage girls to business-men in dark suits, almost everyone has a personal touch to their phone, from outlandishly kawaii (cute) straps to ‘puri-kura’ (photo-club) stickers of their friends, lovers, or family. In Seoul the young generation are using their mobile for watching TV and videos, taking movies and photos, all over the colorful neon lit streets. Singapore teenagers hardly bother to talk on the phone anymore, they can communicate much more openly and emotionally using SMS and MMS. All over Asia the mobile has become the main portal to the social world and the internet world.

Wireless Privacy Daemons (Waveband: 2.4-GHz)

An apple, red and rosy as it can be, was used by the Serpent as the Fruit of Temptation. A wooden horse found outside a stronghold’s gates, had brought about the fall of a great city. A Fantabulous Kawaii Gizmo handy, trendy and sophisticated, does it too due to attacks on digital privacy have a chink in its plastic sheath?

Along the banks of River Taff, in the city of Cardiff, UK, the ”Pied Piper of wireless networks” [2], Michelle Teran, led a band of followers through the city streets exhibiting froma screen in a suitcase: secret images captured from closed-circuit TV cameras, baby crib monitors and personal internet web-cameras. The result - bemusement, catcalls and even verbal abuses. Using reception equipments which she said was common and affordable to all she had wormed into what was perceived as private space for pictorials (and motion picture) transmission. Nonetheless this perceived private space rides upon the 2.4-GHz waveband which ironically is in the public domain. As Teran had demonstrated any one with the right apparatuses is thus capable of conjuring such Wireless Daemons (Waveband: 2.4-GHz) and can call upon its power to peep into parts of others’ lives.

In Helsinki, Finland, anyone walking through the city centre with any handphone (or any other gadgets) comprising of a Bluetooth set may suddenly find themselves waving their mobile in the air in an attempt to clear of ”any possible difficulties experienced by the network”. This was the demonstration of Loca [3], another undertaking to expose yet another Wireless Daemon which allowed the tracking of anybody with Bluetooth enabled gadgets anywhere within the city - with or without their consents. The conjuring of such once again can be done using readily inexpensive components available to any common man.

Such Wireless Privacy Daemons (and probably more to come), do they merely spawn vulnerability into the perceived secured wireless network or do they add even more damage by creeping into users’ private spaces? Should one thus reduce the open access or even stop the use of mobile devices knowing about the presence of such Wireless Daemons lurking somewhere in the dark? Or should one feel outraged about the possibility of becoming a victim of such Wireless Privacy Daemons? In the event of a massive attack from such Wireless Privacy Daemons in areas where wide use of mobile devices like Asia exposes such vulnerability, would the victims (Asians in this case) be petrified and alarmed by the deflection of their beloved Kawaii Gizmos? Or would the Asian victims be vexed with the Wireless Privacy Daemons for the disruption of their Fantabulous Kawaii Gizmos lifestyles? There will be a certain level of outrage for a variety of reasons should such a massive assail occurred - who would not be should it be happening at such a large scale and affecting not just you, but everyone around you. Nonetheless should such possibility of invasion of privacy (be it personal location or pictures from mobile and surveillance devices) be forewarned to the Asians, would they thus withdraw from such wireless gadgets with suspicion or would they adopt a more forgiving attitude towards their Fantabulous Kawaii Gizmos?

Effects of Orientalismon Asian Perception of Digital Privacy

Asians have been described by most as more reserved and traditional, thus would not such a possibility of having their privacy invaded by the Wireless Daemons through surveillance cameras, web-cam, camera phones and blue tooth devices that is abundantly surrounding them, be then an alarming release? As one’s privacy can be controlled by the availability of his or her personal information as defined by the individual [4] hence privacy in actuality is a mix between personal rights and social responsibilities [5]. The question will now be how Asians will define their privacy to be disturbed by the warnings of possible Wireless Privacy Daemons’ assaults on their privacy via their Fantabulous Kawaii Gizmos.

Unlike the Western traditions which accentuate the importance of the individual, highlighting her/his rights, freedom and autonomy, the fundamental of the Asia’s cultural essence (which still remains in a younger Z-Generation of Otaku and Gothic Lolita) has been intimacy [6]: interpersonal relationships are centralized and rather than seeking independence and autonomy Asians seek similarities and overlaps with other members of the community.

As Confucius had said acquiring ”humanity” is not a gift nor a common inheritance but rather an honorific title bestowed upon through distinguished community interactions and excelling in one’s ritualized roles (1:7, 3:8, 4:17, 16:13, Analects); the Asian culture thus revolves around building up one’s sense of virtuous and righteousness through proper and mannerly conduct with respectful and meaningful relationships. Complementarily Asia’s religious teachings steer too towards the direction of virtues in attaining the Metier of Life. Buddhism believes in a life of humility and one free of desires in order to attain enlightenment [7]. Zen believes in ethics and morality surrounding a main concept of not to create evil, always practicing good and actualizing good for others [8]. Such were principles taught by various great sages of Asia as well as religious influences passed down generations after generations to the make of Orientalism, the virtues of the East.

With the advancement of technologies wireless and such would an average Asian then be fearful of possible invasion of his privacy through such Wireless Daemons? Would she likely then be alarmed by the fact that someone could actually be tracing his physical whereabouts by abusing the wireless wondrous of his Bluetooth enabled metallic black slick mobile? Would he then be petrified if someone could actually be stealing snap shots of him through the surveillance camera above his desk everyday when he sat in his office? Intimacy as Asia’s fundamental cultural essence has reached such a level that it is not uncommon to bathe naked in a group in a bathhouse in Japan. Would knowing his physical whereabouts or stealing pictures of him sitting at his office desk typing away at the computer then bother the average Asian? On the contrary he would more likely to be puzzled than upset at one’s intentions for carrying out such deeds. In Singapore it has become completely common to purchase a “Singtel” camera to monitor ones children in the house while at work, and cameras are ubiquitous in normal office spaces. Thus from a baby to adult the concept of bothering about privacy is much lessened compared to European cultures.

With the Confucian imprint on community rather than the isolated individual, the Asian’s beliefs in the importance of cooperative group effort sublimating individual concerns to a larger good has stressed social responsibility over individual rights [9]. The Asian’s definition for privacy thus veers towards responsibility to the community rather than individualism. As such to the average Asian the fear of possible privacy assaults by Wireless Privacy Daemons made possible by mobile media will be reduced or absent since according to her such invasion will fall within the domain of social responsibility in lieu of personal private space. She would not feel so invaded since it has only touched on a part of knowledge which she would readily made available to anyone anyway. For example it is quite common upon meeting and greeting in Asia to automatically ask the person’s age, background, and marital status. The Asian would thus question the intentions and integrity of these individuals for such conduct instead of getting upset over privacy invaded. For better or worse, under such hard-wired cultural-influenced logical reasoning, the fear of others rising Wireless Privacy Daemons against her hence untangled by itself within the average Asian and dissipates as if it has never existed before.

In the world of rising technologies be they fantabulous, kawaii or wireless would knowledge of possible invasion on privacy instill fear in the Asian community such that they would react strongly or shun totally away from the use of such technologies? Or would they under their cultural heritage trust the judgements of the developers and the responsibilities of fellow users to ensure nonabusive use? In almost all Asia countries, nearly everyone walking along the street possesses a Fantabulous Kawaii Gizmo: mobile phones, mp3 players, PDAs, Blackberry; Asians are totally embracing them, using the added benefits rendered to augment their lifestyles, knowing confidently as a unity of an intimate community that there is no need for alarm of Wireless Privacy Daemons. So now if a Fantabulous Kawaii Gizmo maybe Bluetooth enabled and who knows possibly pulsating in 2.4-GHz waveband be placed right in front of you together with forewarnings of Wireless Privacy Daemons at large and it was then offered to you, asking you take it? Would you?

Should you?



[1] J. P. Shim and H. M. Shim. M-commerce around the world: Mobile services and applications in japan, korea, hong kong, finland, and the usa. Decision Line, 2003.

[2] R. Andrews. The art of privacy invasion. Wired News, 2003.

[3] Location Oriented Critical Arts. Loca. [Online], 2003. Available at:

[4] M. Alfino and G. R. Mayes. Reconstructing the right to privacy. Social Theory and Practice, 29.1, 2003.

[5] A. Etzioni. The Limits of Privacy. New York: Basic, 1999.

[6] T. P. Kasulis. Intimacy or Integrity: Philosophy and Cultural Difference. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, USA, 2002.

[7] E. Conze. Buddhism: Its Essence and Development. Courier Dover Publications, 2003.

[8] J. D. Loori. The Heart of Being: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen Buddhism. Tuttle Publishings, 1996.

[9] M. W. Tucker. Confucianism and ecology: Potential and limits. Earth Ethics, 10(1), 1998.