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Friday, July 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Coke's cellphone gimmick prompts military's security concerns

By ELLEN SIMON
The Associated Press

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Some cans of Coca-Cola contain a cellphone and global positioning system used for claiming a prize.
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NEW YORK — There's a new security threat at some of the nation's military bases — and it looks uncannily like a can of Coke.

Specially rigged Coke cans, part of the soft-drink maker's summer promotion, contain cellphones and global positioning chips. That has officials at some installations worried the cans could be used to eavesdrop, and they are instituting protective measures.

Coca-Cola says such concerns are nothing but fizz.

Mart Martin, a Coca-Cola spokesman, said no one would mistake one of the winning cans from the company's "Unexpected Summer" promotion for a regular Coke.

"The can is dramatically different looking," he said. The cans have a recessed panel on the outside and a big red button. "It's very clear that there's a cellphone device."

Winners activate it by pushing the button, which can call only Coke's prize center, he said. Data from the GPS device can be received only by Coke's prize center. Prizes include cash, a home-entertainment center and an SUV.

"It cannot be an eavesdropping device," he said.

Nonetheless, military bases, including the U.S. Army Armor Center at Fort Knox, Ky., are asking soldiers to examine their Coke cans before bringing them into classified meetings.

"We're asking people to open the cans and not bring it in if there's a GPS in it," said Master Sgt. Jerry Meredith, a Fort Knox spokesman. "It's not like we're examining cans at the store. It's a pretty common-sense thing."

Sue Murphy, a spokeswoman for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, said personal electronic devices aren't permitted at some sites on base.

"We've taken measures to make sure everyone's aware of this contest and to make sure devices are cleared before they're taken in" to restricted areas, she said.
 
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The Marine Corps said all personnel had been advised of the cans and to keep them away from secure areas.

Paul Saffo, research director at The Institute for the Future, a technology research firm, compared the Coke-can concern to when the Central Intelligence Agency banned Furbies, the toys that could repeat phrases.

"There's things generals should stay up late at night worrying about," he said. "A talking Coke can isn't one of them."

But Bruce Don, a senior analyst at the Rand Corp., said the military's concern is appropriate.

"There's a lot of reason to worry about how that technology could be taken advantage of by a third party without Coke's knowledge," he said.

"I wouldn't worry if one was in my refrigerator, but if you had a sensitive discussion or location, it's not inconceivable the thing could be used for something it was not designed for," he said.

Asked if Coke would curtail the promotion because of the security issues raised, Coke's Martin said, "No. There's no reason to."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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