Location data collecting smart-phones

A location-based services (LBS) are a hot topic among mobile services developers. A location-based service (LBS) is an information or entertainment service, accessible with mobile devices through the mobile network and utilizing the ability to make use of the geographical position of the mobile device. Modern smart-phones have abilities to locate the position of the mobile phone using using GPS and/or based on the radio signal delay of the closest cell-phone towers.

Location information can be used for all kind of services including mobile phone tracking. GPS real time tracking of a person is technically quite possible, by using certain software and hardware tools. The phone could be sending the location data in real time or collecting the places visited to a file inside the phone. A malware can turn your smart-phone to a tracking device.

The widespread collection of location information is the latest frontier in the booming market for personal data. It seems that very many smart-phones track user location and store it on the device (or even send to the phone manufacturer), usually without the permission of the device owner.

Researchers found that iPhones store unencrypted databases containing location information sometimes stretching back. iPhone Tracker open-source application maps the information that your iPhone is recording about your movements to hidden files.

Apple Inc.’s iPhones and Google Inc.’s Android smartphones regularly transmit their locations back to Apple and Google, respectively, according to data and documents analyzed by The Wall Street Journal. This is intensifying concerns over privacy and the widening trade in personal data. Should you care that your iPhone’s logging your location? Apple gives some answers on their side.

gps

Recent news have surfaced that also Nokia phones and Windows Phone 7 phones also collect and send out the location information.

Cellphones have many reasons to collect location information, which helps provide useful services like local-business lookups and social-networking features. Some location data can also help cellphone networks more efficiently route calls.

Google also has said it uses some of the data to build accurate traffic maps. Apple gathers the data to help build a “database with known location information”. Windows Phone 7 transmits to Microsoft a miniature data dump including a unique device ID, details about nearby Wi-Fi networks, and the phone’s GPS-derived exact latitude and longitude.

Maybe the phone manufacturers should have informed the customers on the customers on this beforehand and get their permission to do this. This kind of data collecting can be a potential privacy problems, but maybe the companies can to this because most Smartphone users do care about location privacy according to a new research from Nielsen.

The user is identifiable if you have a series of events. One privacy concern is that location databases can be a gold mine for police or civil litigants: requesting cell phone location information from wireless carriers has become a staple of criminal investigations.

Before the smart-phone era your operator knew your location at certain accuracy. It is needed for the cell phone network to work correctly. A cellphone is continuously sending and receiving signals to and from the nearest operator tower. Even in the standby mode, a cellphone is ‘active’ with the wireless communication. The signals received from cellphones are located by the cellphone service provider by analyzing the signals. Initially, two or three towers nearest to the cellphone are located. These figures are then compared with regards to the relative strengths of their signals. Using this method, a cellphone can be traced to within a 100 meters of its exact place. Your telephone operator could be using this information and even store it. You need to trust them if you use using cell phone.

28 Comments

  1. Tomi says:
    Android chief Andy Rubin and other Google executives emphasized that collecting location data from consumers’ smartphones was “extremely valuable to Google,” and detailed the trouble the company was having with data collection in the wake of a privacy blowup involving Google’s Street View cars.

    Earlier this week, Google reiterated that no location data is collected through Android phones unless users explicitly give permission when they are setting up a new phone.

    The opt-in question comes when users are asked to check a box that reads: “Allow Google’s location service to collect anonymous location data. Collection will occur even when no applications are running.” If they opt in, users have the option to later turn off data collection at any time, Google said.

    Source: http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_17960065?nclick_check=1

    Reply
  2. Tomi says:
    Share Your iPhone Location Data Like You Mean It
    http://apple.slashdot.org/story/11/05/01/1514256/Share-Your-iPhone-Location-Data-Like-You-Mean-It

    The crazy guys over at crowdflow.net are begging you for the location data that your iPhone collected without you being aware of it. All your data will be anonymized, and the whole combined data set of all donations will be shared under an OpenDataCommons license. Those people are data and visualization geeks and create beautiful visualizations like this from the data, like this http://crowdflow.net/blog/2011/04/28/wifi-stations-in-berlin/

    Reply
  3. Tomi says:
    Apple says it has fixed the bug on iOS the caused the device to collect location information on long time. The new iOS 4.3.3 update will update the parts the collect location information. After update all the location data will be discarded when location services are closed or information is older than one week old.

    Source: http://www.itviikko.fi/uutiset/2011/05/05/apple-korjasi-iphonen-sijaintibugit/20116403/7?rss=8

    Reply
  4. Tomi says:
    Apple causes ‘religious’ reaction in brains of fans, say neuroscientists
    http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/apple-causes-religious-reaction-in-brains-of-fans-say-neuroscientists/

    In a recently screened BBC documentary, UK neuroscientists suggested that the brains of Apple devotees are stimulated by Apple imagery in the same way that the brains of religious people are stimulated by religious imagery.

    Reply
  5. Tomi says:
    Some cars can also collect your location information and reveal it to word:

    Nissan LEAF CARWINGS tells any RSS feed provider your current position, speed, direction, destination, etc.
    http://seattlewireless.net/~casey/?p=97

    The Nissan LEAF all-electric car is full of technological firsts. One of which is a GSM cellular connection to the internet for providing voluntary telemetry information to Nissan, new charging stations, competitive driver rankings, and even RSS feeds. This is called Nissan CARWINGS.

    After creating some of my own third party RSS feeds, I noticed something very peculiar in the HTTP GET in my apache logs

    Looking at the GET string above, “lat” and “lon” variables contain the current position of the vehicle, “speed” is the vehicle speed, “car_dir” is the direction of the car, and “lat_dst” and “lon_dst” is your destination configured in your navigation system.

    All of these lovely values are being provided to any third party RSS provider you configure: CNN, Fox News, Weather Channel, it doesn’t matter! While a lot of these providers are probably not aware of these (rather valuable) parameters the car passes, they probably sit in thousands of HTTP logs already, waiting to be parsed out — or perhaps supported in the future.

    Reply
  6. Tomi says:
    Google curbs Web map exposing phone locations
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20074571-281/google-curbs-web-map-exposing-phone-locations/

    Google has taken steps to limit the disclosure of the locations of millions of iPhones, laptops, and other devices with Wi-Fi connections after a CNET article drew attention to privacy concerns.

    Wi-Fi-enabled devices, including PCs, iPhones, iPads, and Android phones, transmit a unique hardware identifier, called a MAC address, to anyone within a radius of approximately 100 to 200 feet. Until CNET’s June 15 article was published, if someone captured or already knew that unique address, Google’s server could reveal a previous location where that device was located, including home or work addresses or even the addresses of restaurants frequented.

    Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20074571-281/google-curbs-web-map-exposing-phone-locations/#ixzz1QYY8dPlU

    Reply
  7. Keylogging using smartphone motion sensor « Tomi Engdahl’s ePanorama blog says:
    [...] on smartphone raises the awareness of privacy attacks on smartphone sensors. Besides the obvious privacy concern over the GPS sensor, researchers have shown attacks using the camera and [...]
    Reply
  8. Tomi says:
    Here is one interesting blog posting that tells on using cell phone location technologies to locate a stolen cell phone:

    A Look Inside the Search for My Stolen Cell Phone
    By Jared Keller
    A cumbersome legal process provides less accurate information on a phone’s whereabouts than a third-party application

    http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/08/a-look-inside-the-search-for-my-stolen-cell-phone/244010/#.TlQXbFnjMNA.reddit

    Reply
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    Reply
  10. Security trends for 2012 « Tomi Engdahl’s ePanorama blog says:
    [...] will increase and more details of it will surface. Last year’s findings have included Location data collecting smart-phones, Carrier IQ phone spying busted and Police Surveillance system to monitor mobile phones. In USA the [...]
    Reply
  11. Tomi Engdahl says:
    Leaky Cellphone Nets Can Give Attackers Your Location
    http://yro.slashdot.org/story/12/02/20/010216/leaky-cellphone-nets-can-give-attackers-your-location

    “GSM cellular networks leak enough location data to give third-parties secret access to cellphone users’ whereabouts, according to new University of Minnesota research. ‘We have shown that there is enough information leaking from the lower layers of the GSM communication stack to enable an attacker to perform location tests on a victim’s device.

    Attackers have all they need from leaky cellphone networks to track you down
    http://www.networkworld.com/news/2012/0217120-gsm-cellphone-privacy-leak-minnesota-256293.html

    GSM cellular networks leak enough location data to give third-parties secret access to cellphone users’ whereabouts, according to new University of Minnesota research.

    “We have shown that there is enough information leaking from the lower layers of the GSM communication stack to enable an attacker to perform location tests on a victim’s device. We have shown that those tests can be performed silently without a user being aware by aborting PSTN calls before they complete,” write the authors, from the College of Science and Engineering, in a paper titled “Location Leaks on the GSM Air Interface.”

    Location Leaks on the GSM Air Interface
    http://www-users.cs.umn.edu/~foo/research/docs/fookune_ndss_gsm.pdf

    Reply
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    Hello, I genuinely appreciated viewing the technology information on your internet-site. I will have to come back again and observe whats fresh. Please continue to keep this modern. Many thanks
    Reply
  13. Tomi Engdahl says:
    So What Exactly Can Location Aggregators Do With Our Foursquare Data?
    http://allthingsd.com/20120403/so-what-exactly-can-location-aggregators-do-with-our-foursquare-data/

    The widespread analysis of the matter was that Girls Around Me was creepy, but that people should realize that when they publish their locations online, bad things may happen. Technology writers, in our enthusiastically adopted roles as the white knights of online privacy, urged readers to lock down their Foursquare and Facebook profiles.

    The situation made me curious about what, exactly, location aggregators are being allowed to do with our location data. It’s one thing to share where you are with your friends, or with what you think is a small audience of early adopters. But what’s more tricky — and can often feel icky — is when that information is exposed in a different context.

    The point of sharing our locations is to explore new places, meet new people, and brag about doing cool stuff. I doubt that the majority of the population will be volunteering where they are on Foursquare anytime soon. But those of us who want a little more serendipity in our lives now know a bit more about how our information will be used.

    Reply
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  15. Tomi Engdahl says:
    Apple fails to fend off mobile tracking lawsuit
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/13/us-apple-tracking-lawsuit-idUSBRE85C19220120613

    (Reuters) – Apple Inc must defend against a lawsuit accusing it of letting advertisers secretly track the activity of millions of mobile device users, a federal judge ruled, but Google Inc and several other defendants were dismissed from the case.

    Reply
  16. Tomi Engdahl says:
    Convert your smartphone into a pedometer and tracking device
    http://www.edn.com/design/test-and-measurement/4398333/Convert-your-smartphone-into-a-pedometer-and-tracking-device?cid=EDNToday

    When you go hiking or mountain biking, or simply take a long walk around the neighborhood, you might wonder about the distance you covered or specific details, such as speed. A specialized device for such a task is an expensive idea. Now, however, the increasing penetration of smartphones in the market with built-in GPS devices makes it possible to configure a mobile phone to log or send the current readings from its sensors to a server for viewing and processing.

    This Design Idea describes a simple approach to log readings from a GPS using the Python scripting language. An advantage of Python is that an electronics engineer need not delve into the complex realm of C/C++ calls for Symbian/Android architectures to accomplish this simple task. All that is required is the installation on a phone of the Python interpreter, along with a text file containing the script.

    Reply
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    A bashful dog never fattens. – German Proverb
    Reply
  19. Jutta Ester says:
    He who lives on hope, dies of hunger. – German Proverb
    Reply
  20. Tomi Engdahl says:
    Why Facebook Home bothers me: It destroys any notion of privacy
    http://gigaom.com/2013/04/04/why-facebook-home-bothers-me-it-destroys-any-notion-of-privacy/

    Facebook’s history as a repeat offender on privacy, and playing loose and easy with our data means that need to be even more vigilant about privacy issues, thanks to this Home app/faux-OS.

    The new Home app/UX/quasi-OS is deeply integrated into the Android environment. It takes an effort to shut it down, because Home’s whole premise is to be always on and be the dashboard to your social world.

    But there is a bigger worry. The phone’s GPS can send constant information back to the Facebook servers, telling it your whereabouts at any time.

    So if your phone doesn’t move from a single location between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. for say a week or so, Facebook can quickly deduce the location of your home. Facebook will be able to pinpoint on a map where your home is, whether you share your personal address with the site or not.

    This future is going to happen – and it is too late to debate. However, the problem is that Facebook is going to use all this data — not to improve our lives — but to target better marketing and advertising messages at us. Zuckerberg made no bones about the fact that Facebook will be pushing ads on Home.

    Reply
  21. Tomi Engdahl says:
    Unique in the Crowd: The privacy bounds of human mobility
    http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130325/srep01376/full/srep01376.html

    We study fifteen months of human mobility data for one and a half million individuals and find that human mobility traces are highly unique. In fact, in a dataset where the location of an individual is specified hourly, and with a spatial resolution equal to that given by the carrier’s antennas, four spatio-temporal points are enough to uniquely identify 95% of the individuals.

    the uniqueness of mobility traces decays approximately as the 1/10 power of their resolution. Hence, even coarse datasets provide little anonymity.

    Modern information technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones, however, magnify the uniqueness of individuals, further enhancing the traditional challenges to privacy. Mobility data is among the most sensitive data currently being collected.

    Reply
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  23. Tomi says:
    Tool reveals Apple user locations
    http://www.scmagazine.com.au/News/342593,tool-reveals-apple-user-locations.aspx

    A Melbourne-based researcher has created a tool which uses Apple’s location services, combined with data iPhones and iPads disclose when they join wifi networks, to potentially reveal where users live.

    The tool works by accessing Apple’s database of wireless access points, which is collected by iPhones and iPads that have GPS and wifi location services enabled.

    Most iPhones and iPads regularly submit information about access points within range to Apple, regardless of whether users connect to them.

    Apple uses this ‘crowd-sourced’ data to run its location services, however the location database is not meant to be public.

    His proof of concept Python application, iSniff GPS, uses this process to allow users to view maps of nearby access points.

    “You can send Apple a single MAC address of a wifi router and they will send back a result set including the GPS coordinates of that MAC address and about 400 others,” Seiwert said.

    Reply
  24. police sirens says:
    I am looking for a gps tracking program for a laptop, so if my laptop was stolen i could find it. All i want it to do is give me the location of the laptop, nothing else is needed, but if it was the same price that would be good. If anyone knows a gps chip that i could put in a laptop case or somewhere on the laptop and can track it from another computer. Thanks.
    Reply
  25. blackberry tracking says:
    You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be actually something that
    I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and very broad for me.

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    it!

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  26. Tomi Engdahl says:
    NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-tracking-cellphone-locations-worldwide-snowden-documents-show/2013/12/04/5492873a-5cf2-11e3-bc56-c6ca94801fac_story.html

    The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.

    The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.

    The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.

    One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones.

    U.S. officials said the programs that collect and analyze location data are lawful and intended strictly to develop intelligence about foreign targets.

    The NSA has no reason to suspect that the movements of the overwhelming majority of cellphone users would be relevant to national security. Rather, it collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools — known collectively as CO-TRAVELER — allow it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.

    CO-TRAVELER and related tools require the methodical collection and storage of location data on what amounts to a planetary scale.

    “One of the key components of location data, and why it’s so sensitive, is that the laws of physics don’t let you keep it private,”

    The number of Americans whose locations are tracked as part of the NSA’s collection of data overseas is impossible to determine from the Snowden documents alone, and senior intelligence officials declined to offer an estimate.

    “It’s awkward for us to try to provide any specific numbers,”

    Reply
  27. Tomi Engdahl says:
    New documents show how the NSA infers relationships based on mobile location data
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/12/10/new-documents-show-how-the-nsa-infers-relationships-based-on-mobile-location-data/

    Everyone who carries a cellphone generates a trail of electronic breadcrumbs that records everywhere they go. Those breadcrumbs reveal a wealth of information about who we are, where we live, who our friends are and much more. And as we reported last week, the National Security Agency is collecting location information in bulk — 5 billion records per day worldwide — and using sophisticated algorithms to assist with U.S. intelligence-gathering operations.

    How do they do it? And what can they learn from location data? The latest documents show the extent of the location-tracking program we first reported last week.

    The NSA doesn’t just have the technical capabilities to collect location-based data in bulk. A 24-page NSA white paper shows that the agency has a powerful suite of algorithms, or data sorting tools, that allow it to learn a great deal about how people live their lives.

    Those tools allow the agency to perform analytics on a global scale, examining data collected about potentially everyone’s movements in order to flag new surveillance targets.

    For example, one NSA program, code-named Fast Follower, was developed to allow the NSA to identify who might have been assigned to tail American case officers at stations overseas. By correlating an officer’s cellphone signals to those of foreign nationals in the same city, the NSA is able to figure out whether anyone is moving in tandem with the U.S. officer.

    Reply

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