Entries Tagged "tracking"

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Remote Scanning Technology

I don’t know if this is real or fantasy:

Within the next year or two, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will instantly know everything about your body, clothes, and luggage with a new laser-based molecular scanner fired from 164 feet (50 meters) away. From traces of drugs or gun powder on your clothes to what you had for breakfast to the adrenaline level in your body — agents will be able to get any information they want without even touching you.

The meta-point is less about this particular technology, and more about the arc of technological advancements in general. All sorts of remote surveillance technologies — facial recognition, remote fingerprint recognition, RFID/Bluetooth/cell phone tracking, license plate tracking — are becoming possible, cheaper, smaller, more reliable, etc. It’s wholesale surveillance, something I wrote about back in 2004.

We’re at a unique time in the history of surveillance: the cameras are everywhere, and we can still see them. Fifteen years ago, they weren’t everywhere. Fifteen years from now, they’ll be so small we won’t be able to see them. Similarly, all the debates we’ve had about national ID cards will become moot as soon as these surveillance technologies are able to recognize us without us even knowing it.

EDITED TO ADD (8/13): Related papers, and a video.

Posted on July 16, 2012 at 1:59 PMView Comments

Apple Patents Data-Poisoning

It’s not a new idea, but Apple Computer has received a patent on “Techniques to pollute electronic profiling”:

Abstract: Techniques to pollute electronic profiling are provided. A cloned identity is created for a principal. Areas of interest are assigned to the cloned identity, where a number of the areas of interest are divergent from true interests of the principal. One or more actions are automatically processed in response to the assigned areas of interest. The actions appear to network eavesdroppers to be associated with the principal and not with the cloned identity.

Claim 1:

A device-implemented method, comprising: cloning, by a device, an identity for a principal to form a cloned identity; configuring, by the device, areas of interest to be associated with the cloned identity, the areas of interest are divergent from true areas of interest for a true identity for the principal; and automatically processing actions associated with the areas of interest for the cloned identity over a network to pollute information gathered by eavesdroppers performing dataveillance on the principal and refraining from processing the actions when the principal is detected as being logged onto the network and also refraining from processing the actions when the principal is unlikely to be logged onto the network.

EDITED TO ADD (7/12): Similar technology and concept has already been developed by Breadcrumbs Solutions, and will be out as a free beta software in a few months.

Posted on June 21, 2012 at 5:51 AMView Comments

Shopper Surveillance Using Cell Phones

Electronic surveillance is becoming so easy that even marketers can do it:

The cellphone tracking technology, called Footpath, is made by Path Intelligence Ltd., a Portsmouth, U.K.-based company. It uses sensors placed throughout the mall to detect signals from mobile phones and track their path around the mall. The sensors cannot gather phone numbers or other identifying data, or intercept or log data about calls or SMS messages, the company says.

EDITED TO ADD (12/14): Two malls have shelved the system for now.

Posted on November 29, 2011 at 7:01 AMView Comments

Facebook Patent to Track Users Even When They are Not Logged In to Facebook

Patent application number 2011/023240:

Communicating Information in a Social Network System about Activities from Another Domain

Abstract: In one embodiment, a method is described for tracking information about the activities of users of a social networking system while on another domain. The method includes maintaining a profile for each of one or more users of the social networking system, each profile identifying a connection to one or more other users of the social networking system and including information about the user. The method additionally includes receiving one or more communications from a third-party website having a different domain than the social network system, each message communicating an action taken by a user of the social networking system on the thirdparty website. The method additionally includes logging the actions taken on the third-party website in the social networking system, each logged action including information about the action. The method further includes correlating the logged actions with one or more advertisements presented to the one or more users on the third-party website as well as correlating the logged actions with a user of the social networking system.

Facebook denies that this is a patent for that. Although Facebook does seem to track users even when they are not logged in, as well as people who aren’t even Facebook users.

EDITED TO ADD (10/24): Facebook claims that, while they do collect information on non-users, they don’t use it for profiling. This feels like hair-splitting to me; I get emails from Facebook with lists of friends who are already on the site.

EDITED TO ADD (10/24): It’s a patent application, not a patent.

Posted on October 24, 2011 at 6:42 AMView Comments

New, Undeletable, Web Cookie

A couple of weeks ago Wired reported the discovery of a new, undeletable, web cookie:

Researchers at U.C. Berkeley have discovered that some of the net’s most popular sites are using a tracking service that can’t be evaded — even when users block cookies, turn off storage in Flash, or use browsers’ “incognito” functions.

The Wired article was very short on specifics, so I waited until one of the researchers — Ashkan Soltani — wrote up more details. He finally did, in a quite technical essay:

What differentiates KISSmetrics apart from Hulu with regards to respawning is, in addition to Flash and HTML5 LocalStorage, KISSmetrics was exploiting the browser cache to store persistent identifiers via stored Javascript and ETags. ETags are tokens presented by a user’s browser to a remote webserver in order to determine whether a given resource (such as an image) has changed since the last time it was fetched. Rather than simply using it for version control, we found KISSmetrics returning ETag values that reliably matched the unique values in their ‘km_ai’ user cookies.

Posted on August 15, 2011 at 4:48 AMView Comments


ShareMeNot is a Firefox add-on for preventing tracking from third-party buttons (like the Facebook “Like” button or the Google “+1” button) until the user actually chooses to interact with them. That is, ShareMeNot doesn’t disable/remove these buttons completely. Rather, it allows them to render on the page, but prevents the cookies from being sent until the user actually clicks on them, at which point ShareMeNot releases the cookies and the user gets the desired behavior (i.e., they can Like or +1 the page).

Posted on July 28, 2011 at 2:02 PMView Comments

RFID Tags Protecting Hotel Towels

The stealing of hotel towels isn’t a big problem in the scheme of world problems, but it can be expensive for hotels. Sure, we have moral prohibitions against stealing — that’ll prevent most people from stealing the towels. Many hotels put their name or logo on the towels. That works as a reputational societal security system; most people don’t want their friends to see obviously stolen hotel towels in their bathrooms. Sometimes, though, this has the opposite effect: making towels and other items into souvenirs of the hotel and thus more desirable to steal. It’s against the law to steal hotel towels, of course, but with the exception of large-scale thefts, the crime will never be prosecuted. (This might be different in third world countries. In 2010, someone was sentenced to three months in jail for stealing two towels from a Nigerian hotel.) The result is that more towels are stolen than hotels want. And for expensive resort hotels, those towels are expensive to replace.

The only thing left for hotels to do is take security into their own hands. One system that has become increasingly common is to set prices for towels and other items — this is particularly common with bathrobes — and charge the guest for them if they disappear from the rooms. This works with some things, but it’s too easy for the hotel to lose track of how many towels a guest has in his room, especially if piles of them are available at the pool.

A more recent system, still not widespread, is to embed washable RFID chips into the towels and track them that way. The one data point I have for this is an anonymous Hawaii hotel that claims they’ve reduced towel theft from 4,000 a month to 750, saving $16,000 in replacement costs monthly.

Assuming the RFID tags are relatively inexpensive and don’t wear out too quickly, that’s a pretty good security trade-off.

Posted on May 11, 2011 at 11:01 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.