Are mobile emergency broadcasts open to abuse?

Alcatel-Lucent has recently released version 2.0 of its Broadcast Message Center for mobile phones.

The system, which was developed to allow governments to deliver emergency alerts to specific geographical areas, is now being made available on a commercial basis, which we can't help thinking is a cause for concern.

The system is currently being tested in a number countries including America and Japan, and there's no doubt that a closely-controlled project which is capable of warning two-thirds of the population of the planet about terrorist attacks or impending natural disasters is a good thing.

The first problem arises when the same system is in the hands of commercial concerns. As if we're not already bombarded with more unwanted marketing messages than any sane person can bare, soon your local supermarket will be able to target messages at anyone close to their building.

Being nagged about cut-price baked beans will be bad enough for anyone trying to grab a quick loaf of bread on their way home from work, but can you imagine how annoying it will be if your house or place of work is within the same cell as your local Tescos?

As with all emerging technologies, legislation and laws take a while to catch up with the cutting edge, so we can all look forward to months of even years of unwanted commercial garbage appearing on our mobile phones if this system takes off.

We're sure that those who do decide to use geographically-targeted mobile messaging will eventually be forced to offer the service as an opt-in option, but not before the public and privacy groups have kicked up an almighty stink about the rising tide of MMS junk.

There's also another more serious point about such a powerful tool being opened up to the private sector. Now, we're not saying that most governments are paragons of virtue when it comes to protecting IT infrastructure, but we reckon the chances of the relevant software and hardware falling into the wrong hands are substantially slimmer if it is only ever available to official, and publicly-accountable bodies.

It might just be our rampant paranoia in a world gone mad, but we'd dread to think the damage you could do given access to the Government emergency alert system.

Can you imagine the ensuing chaos - and probable body count - if you simultaneously sent a false bomb alert to 90,000 football fans at Wembley.

Let's face it, if the makers of the Stuxnet worm can specifically target hardware installed at uranium enrichment facilities in Iran, then hacking into a system developed for government emergency use, but hived off to money-making marketeers in pursuit of profit, doesn't take a wild stretch of the imagination.