This article summarizes the present and potential legal constraints of mobile computing and commerce and provides company policy suggestions associated with wireless data collection, dissemination, and storage. The legal constraints focus on major American laws that directly and indirectly involve mobile computing and commerce. Mobile computing is the ability to use wireless devices such as laptops and handheld computers in remote locations to communicate through the Internet or a private network. The technology involves a computer linked to centrally located information or application software through battery powered, portable, and wireless devices (Webopedia.com, 2007b). Mobile commerce uses computer networks to interface with wireless devices such as laptops, handheld computers, or cell phones to help buy goods and services. It is also known as mobile e-commerce, mcommerce, or mcommerce (Webopedia.com, 2007b). Radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies are often a part of mobile commerce. The technologies use radio waves to provide services such as identifying product packaging, paying tolls, purchasing at vending machines, and covertly monitoring employee locations (Grami & Schell, 2007). This article is significant because mobile computing and commerce are expanding at a terrific pace. Laws have been slow to catch up with the new technologies. However, some existing laws on mobile computing and commerce already have a large impact on how communication is disseminated, security and privacy are maintained, and companies develop mobile policies. This article helps corporate managers reduce potential litigation because these mobile laws are described and their implications on company policies disseminated.
Companies incorporating mobile computing and commerce must balance the freedom of communication with legal constraints associated with privacy, fairness, copyrights, and discrimination. Technological and legal changes in the last 40 years have lead to a plethora of wireless devices and laws.
Wireless Device History
First generation (1G) systems that began in the early 1980s provided analog voice-only communications while second generation (2G) systems introduced in the early 1990s provided digital voice and low speed data services. Third generation (3G) systems introduced in the early 2000s focused on packet data rather than just voice (Grami & Schell, 2007).
Greater standardization has contributed to greater wireless computing and communication especially in Japan and Europe. The United States is catching up (Ackerman, Kempf, & Miki, 2003).
An example of greater standardization is Wi-Fi, an underlying technology for laptops associated with local area networks (LANs) based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 specifications. It was developed to be used for wireless devices, such as laptops for LANs, but it is now increasingly used for more services, including the Internet, television, DVD players, and digital cameras (Webopedia.com, 2007a).
With faster data transmission speeds and battery power boosts, employees are making wireless devices natural extensions of themselves with increased use of LANs, more location-based services, and wireless gadgets (Hirsh, 2002). Accordingly, working wirelessly allows employees to work almost anytime and anywhere. Information becomes more readily available in which employees can see and talk to each other, send data and pictures, use the Internet, and conduct business with customers. Wireless devices such as cell phones allow the technology to be tailored to employees’ needs. Companies can monitor employee electronic communications and check employee locations; in other words, do location monitoring (Philmiee, 2004).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Local Area Network (LAN): A computer network that covers a relatively small area, often confined to a building or group of buildings. Most connect workstations and personal computers (Webopedia.com, 2007a).
Electronic Communications Privacy Act: Limits the access, use, disclosure, interception, and privacy of electronic communications (Kaupins and Minch, 2006). It protects individuals’ communications from third parties with no legitimate message access (e.g., from the government that has not conducted a court order) and from message carriers such as Internet service providers (Kaupins and Minch, 2006).
Location Monitoring: The use of location-aware technologies such as wireless local area networks, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and global positioning systems (GPS) to determine the location of people or objects (Kaupins and Minch, 2007).
Digital Millennium Copyright Act: Prohibits the sale and distribution of devices that would enable the unauthorized access or copying of a work (Benedict.com, 2007).
Wi-Fi: A brand originally licensed by the WiFi Alliance that describes the underlying technology of wireless local area networks based on the IEEE 802.11 specifications. It was developed to be used for mobile computing devices (such as laptops) and in LANs, but is now used for services, including Internet and VoIP phone access, gaming, and basic connections with consumer electronics such as televisions, DVD players, or digital cameras (Webopedia.com, 2007).
Mobile Computing: The ability to use untethered (not physically connected) technology in remote locations to communicate through the Internet or a private network. The technology involves a mobile device linked to centrally located information or application software through battery powered, portable, and wireless devices (Webopedia.com, 2007).
Mobile commerce: The buying and selling of goods and services through wireless devices (Webopedia.com, 2007).
3G: Third generation in wireless technology involving mobile communications with enhanced media (voice, data, and remote control), usability on modes such as cell phones, paging, faxing, videoconferencing, and web browsing, broad bandwidth, high speed, and roaming capability (Webopedia.com, 2007).