Tracking People by their Sneakers
Researchers at the University of Washington have demonstrated a surveillance system that automatically tracks people through the Nike+iPod Sport Kit. Basically, the kit contains a transmitter that you stick in your sneakers and a receiver you attach to your iPod. This allows you to track things like time, distance, pace, and calories burned. Pretty clever.
However, it turns out that the transmitter in your sneaker can be read up to 60 feet away. And because it broadcasts a unique ID, you can be tracked by it. In the demonstration, the researchers built a surveillance device (at a cost of about $250) and interfaced their surveillance system with Google Maps. Details are in the paper. Very scary.
This is a great demonstration for anyone who is skeptical that RFID chips can be used to track people. It’s a good example because the chips have no personal identifying information, yet can still be used to track people. As long as the chips have unique IDs, those IDs can be used for surveillance.
To me, the real significance of this work is how easy it was. The people who designed the Nike/iPod system put zero thought into security and privacy issues. Unless we enact some sort of broad law requiring companies to add security into these sorts of systems, companies will continue to produce devices that erode our privacy through new technologies. Not on purpose, not because they’re evil — just because it’s easier to ignore the externality than to worry about it.