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Fieldwork, Gear, Privacy, Review

An OFF Pocket™ for Sensitive Fieldwork?

The idea of privacy.

The idea of privacy.

I like the idea of privacy.

When you carry a mobile phone, regularly check in to Twitter, often update your  Facebook, or use Google products, however, privacy  really can’t be much more than that—an idea, a dream, a conceptual ideal.

So, earlier this year when I read about Adam Harvey’s Kickstarter project, the OFF Pocket™, I immediately loved the idea—a black pocket that you drop your phone into to disconnect it, shield it from the network, quiet its connectivity. It was a little pouch of privacy.

To me Mr. Harvey’s project was more concept art than practical product. After all, phones are about being connected and if I didn’t want that I would just leave it at home or in my office. I don’t live a life of intrigue, drive an Aston Martin or have secret rendezvous with Russian spies. I, however, just loved the idea. To me it was like a miniature bag of holding into which a mobile phone could be made to disappear from this world—instantly interrupting its purpose for existence and thwarting the multiple apps that seek to know me. I could starve my phone of the connections it was designed to make to the world of waves and signals. It was a little “Resistance Pocket™”—a modest metallic cloth middle finger to our corporate overlords. So, I decided to back Mr. Harvey’s cool idea. I sent in my money and waited.

A few days ago, my OFF Pocket™ arrived.

A nice snug fit for my iPhone.

A nice snug fit for my iPhone.

It was shipped in a small packet. Inside was a card of fancy, high-quality, velvety black paper with the words “IN PRIVACY WE TRUST” printed on it.

The pocket itself is pretty much what I expected. The outside is made of a matte black, high-tech feeling cloth. The surface almost feels lightly rubberized. The inside of the pocket is made of a shimmery metallic cloth that reminds me a bit of a Gore-Tex® jacket. The stitching is nicely done and it seems durable.

The pocket closes around a phone, by using two elastic bands partially stitched to its back. The bands detract a bit from the pocket’s techy coolness. Also, as I unfortunately discovered, the bands can be easily overstretched becoming a bit loose. The pocket itself, however, fits nice and snugly. I do imagine, however, that it might not work with some bulkier iPhone cases.

Of course, none of this is really that  important to me—because I bought the OFF Pocket™ to support Mr. Harvey’s idea.

As soon as I finished inspecting the pocket, I plopped my phone into it—and nothing happened. Of course, I suppose that is the point. So I called my phone and it didn’t ring. Then I took my phone out of the pocket, called it, waited for it to start ringing and then dropped it in the bag. It continued to ring and then cut off. I took it out again, fired up the MPR App started listening to the stream, then popped the phone into the pocket. After a moment, there was only silence. As soon as I removed the phone from the pocket, the stream reconnected and started playing. It was as if the phone had slipped into the Negative Zone and then returned. It appeared that the OFF Pocket™ works as designed.

Can you hear me now? Nope.

Can you hear me now? Nope.

After playing around for a bit, I set the pocket aside and it has been there ever since. Its not all that useful, but it is so cool. The potential of privacy just sitting there waiting for me if I need it.

Then a few days ago I got to thinking, however, that the pocket actually could be useful for social science researchers or reporters working on sensitive topics in places with paranoid governments. I do my research in China, for example, and have friends that do research on topics that could be considered to be on the edge. Considering how easily the Chinese government security can track and eavesdrop and given the news that phones can be used as listening devices even when off, an OFF Pocket™ could be very convenient. Before an interview a phone could be dropping into it—poof—no connection. It is light and simple to pack and looks like it will be easy to clean.

The OFF Pocket™ is available for preorder online at the Privacy Gift Shop. While the price is a bit steep—it is important to note that Mr. Harvey is having them manufactured in New York, so pay the extra premium and know that you are supporting local workers. In any case, for folks who would like the convenience of shielding their phones or, like me, just love the idea of OFF, you might consider it.

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