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5 Ways Your Gadgets Will Betray Your Privacy

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I’ve spent a considerable amount of my personal and professional time mocking conspiracy theorists, but it is true that as we open our homes and our wallets to electronic devices, we are also opening up our lives to surveillance. So if you plan on doing something risky, read the list below. Then then check out your ISP’s terms of service, wrap your phone in tinfoil, and call a cab (leave your wallet at home).

  1. Mall Watchers: Like mall walkers, mall watchers aren’t so much evil as they are annoying. A firm called Path Intelligence isn’t tracking YOU, it’s tracking your particular cell phone — everything else is anonymous. Except for the country you live in. Because such data is helpful to mall owners and marketers who want to see where that cell phone travels inside their buildings. And we love to help them out, right?
  2. Web Stalkers: Already vilified in England and under investigation in Canada, these programs track your web surfing habits (again, not you, just anonymous data) and sell ads based on that data. And now the evils of deep-packet inspection have landed stateside, with Charter offering tracking to subscribers as an “enhanced service.”
  3. Location-Based Services/Advertising: Ever issued the little white lie to your boss or significant other, like saying you’re home sick when you’re waiting in line for tickets to the latest “Indiana Jones” flick? Thanks to the combination of location-based services delivered via cell phone and social networks, you may find yourself caught or at least having to prepare a bit before you tell your tale.
  4. Automotive black boxes: These services, which began with On-Star, are now so advanced they can track whether or not you (or someone with your ID chip) are driving the car. The boxes are not only outfitted with GPS chips that can be used to track where you are if the car gets in an accident, but contain hardware to disable a car in case of a theft. The boxes are tied to police systems, which means it’s easy enough for governments to track the car at any time. I wonder how long route data is stored.
  5. Digital IDs: And for those of you who walk to work, don’t own a cell phone and refuse broadband service, there’s still your driver’s license or work-issued identity card, which can contain a chip that holds the key to your identity and can broadcast your data to anyone with the equipment to read it. [digg=]

13 Responses to “5 Ways Your Gadgets Will Betray Your Privacy”

  1. #4 is the most dangerous, if you ask me.

    What happens when George Bush decides he doesn’t wanna leave the White House in after a Democrat gets elected.

    He’ll just declare Martial Law and just have his good buddies at GM press the kill-switch on every On-Star Enabled Vehicle in the US so we can’t leave the country! =P

  2. Peter

    Don’t Panic!

    Path Intelligence is not yet in the US, and according to both the ECPA and the Communications Act of 1934, they’re prohibited from monitoring your cell phone transmissions for any purpose. It’s illegal to monitor cellular transmissions, including the control channel, unless you’re the cellular company.

    If you’re paranoid, keep your phone switched off, turn it on only to make calls. If you’re really paranoid, take the battery out, but on all the phones I have owned, off is off.

    Web tracking? Easy. Erase your cookies. Use Linux and Firefox. Turn scripting off.

    If you’re worried about chips in your license and/or passport, wrap them in aluminum foil (yes, I know). It’s a cheap Faraday cage, just make sure you fold the edges over a couple of times to make good seams.

  3. Al Ias

    Your phone regularly transmits an ID to the cell towers so the service provider can route calls to you to the correct cell. I have heard that governments can listen from your phone when they choose. That would not be difficult technically, but it would eat up battery life. The only way to be sure with a mobile phone is to remove the battery. Landline phones are much easier to use as bugs. The only way to be sure they are not active is to unplug them.

    I designed after theft vehicle recovery systems. The boxes kept a record of your journeys. The bosses insisted on GSM to communicate with the boxes, so the cost of getting data back to a control centre was prohibitive unless someone else was going to pay for it. The lawyers said that vehicles could only be disabled if the engine was not running. They did not want to deal with cars smashed on a level crossing.

    The popular way to get passwords from your computer is to used a key logger – a program that records every button you press on the keyboard and send it back to whoever controls your computer. You can reduce the effectiveness of a key logger
    by cutting and pasting your password instead of typing it.

  4. jack waldron

    Don’t try lead wallets to keep those id cards from “transmitting” data. Buy a Faraday cage insert. Any device inside a Faraday cage won’t be able to transmit data. They have them for Passports also. It should be standard equipment in today’s wallets.

  5. Very nice list and absolutely correct, but far from comprehensive, of course.
    As it stands, your every step is being monitored, stored, gauged and compared by what’s justifiably termed “Big Brother” forces these days. Time for a rethink and a restructuring of your behavioral strategies if you don’t want to end up as cannon fodder in the war for “security” the nanny state and all the corporate powers profiting therefrom is waging on us all.

  6. I’ve heard you can disable those phone trackers but keeping your phone shut off. Is this true? Or does it still emit a signal that can be picked up by marketers?