Rhodri Marsden: Cyberman

Hope for drunken texters
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The Independent Online

I don't know about you, but when I'm being sold business software, I want to be made to feel like a lion-hearted thrill-seeker. Staellium UK describes its StealthMobile application as "an intelligence cockpit-control solution, similar to the ... visual instrumentation systems used by fighter pilots to manage complex data in combat", and refers to its users as "road warriors". Wade through all the Mad Max imagery, however, and you discover that StealthMobile enables businesses to keep control over the electronic data they send out, preventing it from getting into the wrong hands - or, as Staellium puts it, the "enemy".

An offshoot of this product, StealthText (which is also "derived from military technology"), has found a use not only among battle-hardened BlackBerry users, but also philanderers and drunkards; it automatically erases text messages from the recipient's phone, about 40 seconds after they have been read. News of this development will doubtless send ripples of relief among those who, late at night, are prone to sending the kind of impetuous, lascivious communications that have to be followed up with profuse apologies the next morning.

The service is being trumpeted as a "breakthrough", but the technology behind it isn't that complex. You sign up via a normal SMS message and, for a fiver, you get 12 autodestructive StealthTexts - subterfuge is an expensive business - that are keyed in via a secure website on your phone's WAP browser. Annoyingly, this means writing down the phone number of the intended recipient, as the site doesn't link up with your phone's address book. You're notified of a stealthy reply by another SMS, and then sent back to your WAP browser to read the message before it disappears in a puff of cybersmoke.

It's quite a palaver, and an obvious flaw is that incriminating messages tend not to be the ones that you labour over - they're sent in a fleeting moment of moon-eyed infatuation or hate-fuelled bile. By the time you've remembered your StealthText PIN, the chances are that you'll have thought better about sending the message at all. A more useful service might be one that scanned for inappropriate phrases - such as "need u bad" - before firing that message into the ether; or messaging software that requires you to complete sobering logic problems before allowing you to send anything.

According to Everton Blair, a blogger who tackled the secure SMS issue while working with Vodafone, capacity exists within the current SMS protocol to enable all kinds of text messages to be sent - autodestructive ones, indelible ones - but the mobile networks choose not to offer us these options.

For now, then, your best chance of covering up any illicit affairs - while simultaneously managing your business intelligence requirements - is to look to Staellium for a solution. And if you can't seem to find that saucy message that you're certain you received late last night, the chances are that you're being pursued by a stealthy road warrior, probably from Beyond Thunderdome.

cyber@timewasting.net

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