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US cell carriers are selling access to real-time phone location data (zdnet.com)
1630 points by voctor on May 16, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 625 comments

Throwaway account.

I work in location / mapping / geo. Some of us have been waiting for this to blow (which it hasn't yet). The public has zero idea how much personal location data is available.

It's not just your cell carrier. Your cell phone chip manufacturer, GPS chip manufacturer, phone manufacturer and then pretty much anyone on the installed OS (android crapware) is getting a copy of your location data. Usually not in software but by contract, one gives gps data to all the others as part of the bill of materials.

This is then usually (but not always) "anonymized" by cutting it in to ~5 second chunks. It's easy to put it back together again. We can figure out everything about your day from when you wake up to where you go to when you sleep.

This data is sold to whoever wants it. Hedge funds or services who analyze it for hedge funds is the big one. It's normal to track hundreds of millions of people a day and trade stocks based on where they go. This isn't fantasy, it's what happens every day.

Almost every web/smartphone mapping company is doing it, so is almost everyone that tracks you for some service - "turn the lights on when I get home". The web mapping companies and those that provide SDKs for "free". It's a monetization model for apps which don't need location. That's why Apple is trying hard to restrict it without scaring off consumers.

I can confirm this is happening, I designed some of the analysis systems used. Contrary to what many people assume, this is not just a US thing. It is done throughout the industrialized world to varying degrees, including countries where most people believe privacy protections disallow such activity. Governments tacitly support it because they've found these capabilities immensely useful for their own purposes.

> for their own purposes

Such as?

If this also happens in the EU and is as blatant as you say it is and with GDPR and all, surely this is just waiting to blow up?

Parralel construction.

You pull the phone location records of everyone near a protest without a warrant (and no intention of using the location data in court) then you dig into them to find something unrelated to the protest you can nail them on.

That way you take out key players without it looking like a political crackdown.

Based on the discussion in this thread doing such a thing seems relatively easy.

Obligatory Orwell:

“The most gifted of [the Proletariate], who might possibly become a nuclei of discontent, are simply marked down by the Thought Police and eliminated.”

Yep, that's on the simpler end of the spectrum, they can/could be far more insidious and subtle.

It's horrible but beyond supporting ORG, EFF and writing to my MP (I'm in the UK) not sure what else I can do, even if I protect myself from it my family and friends are still potentially fucked.

Advise everyone you know to keep their phones in foil potato chip bags?



What's ORG?

show up to a protest. bring your family and friends.

encourage everyone to boycott american companies.

It’s not just American companies.

That's absolutely a chilling effect. Just thinking about this I'm thinking back on events I've been to what what the government can infer from that. And they can probably nail us for anything now whenever they want to and it will be hard to trace it back to this kind of monitoring and analysis. The only way to avoid that would be to leave your phone at home and hope nobody records you or takes photos.

That assumes use by a malicious government, but what was described above was illegal use by private entities.

I'm pretty sure that in Germany, some of the described activities could be punished with prison time (and they certainly should).

So this is just a way to bulk identify people in a certain location at a certain time. Fairly efficient I guess but could bring up a lot of false positives, like passers by, journalists etc

I would think that the people who would want to bulk identify people at certain events wouldn't consider tracked journalists to be false positives.

Yes, these applications are blatantly violating the GDPR: https://www.gdpreu.org/the-regulation/key-concepts/personal-...

Then it's going to get very costly for them when the EU goes after some more of that sweet sweet penalty money.

You and op work for companies you seem to fundamentally disagree with. Can you say why you don’t leave? Asking not out of judgment but to understand.

Because they will just hire someone else.

But where does that line of reasoning end? If asked to join a gang, do you agree because they'll simply find someone else?

I think if you work in tech and you're not super made then you've just got to choose a few things you absolutely wont do and compromise on the rest. I don't even think this is the most sinister of stuff out there so personally I'd probably take the job in this case.

I am a journalist and want to know more about how hedge funds use/abuse this. Please get in touch if you have first-hand knowledge: fbajak@ap.org.

I am a journalist and would like to know more. Reach me at sfrancisbjr@gmail.com if you can help.

Do you feel guilt over creating them?

Should they? The vast quantity of users find it incredibly useful and have no reason to be concerned about governments or third parties being able to determine their geographic location, because governments or third parties don't generally care.

>have no reason to be concerned about governments ...

Many aren't, but everyone has reason to.

Governments change. Telling your government your religion in 1920s Germany was harmless, in 1940 many would have preferred if the government didn't have their religion on file.

Circumstances change to. In 1920 being a Japanese in the US wasn't special. After Perl Harbor came the internment camps.

And then there's the mundane stuff. You protest a government policy, someone in the government takes issue and tries to put some of these annoying people in jail.

Given that you don't know when you might become an enemy of the state it's always a good idea to keep the power of the state over its citizens in check.

You can be upset about an aspect of a product, and seek to change that aspect, without abandoning use of the product. For example, 1.3 million people are killed by cars every year, and while we recognize the risk, we also constantly improve them through safety regulations, training and improved technology. Just because people use cell phones and apps today doesn't mean we're okay with the downsides and should stop trying to improving them.

It's an interesting example you've chosen, since one of the dimensions along which car safety improvement is being researched is ubiquitous GPS signalling to share data about road and traffic conditions (and since every self-driving car is basically a panopticon and recording device rolled into one).

Mass surveillance is not really for investigating individuals.

The game being played is not '1984', it is 'Foundation'.

It is for steering entire societies, and this works far better on the boring people who think they have nothing to hide as they are the easiest to model

I agree the greater emphasis is Foundation-style analysis, but really, it's for both.

I've been working a theory that what we are seeing in the last 10 years or so is the escape of these techniques from government into private industry.

With a single powerful player, you get a consistent, but slightly false narrative. If you have lots of players though, you get multiple competing narratives and the news stops making sense.

Is partly why I still think Gibson is one of the people who got it closest to the mark.

If they "don't generally care", they wouldn't be collecting that data to begin with.

It's possible that they care about the aggregated data and not about the individual data.

They collect the data because they can find themselves needing to care in the future, at which point nobody wants to be kicking themselves for failing to collect the data.

So they do care.

Cambridge Analytica did far more with far less.

Did they? They're sales pitch claimed they could but what we've heard of actual methods and impact didn't appear more effective than regular FB ads.

It's not about being able to track everybody. You're right, nobody cares about that.

It's about being able to track anybody.

1) Users get no benefit from information resale. 2) COINTELPRO

Keep in mind: most users are not part of a domestic political organization targeted by the FBI, so again, when the rubber hits the road, they'd rather not be inconvenienced for a risk that applies to other people. They don't care about COINTELPRO (disregarding, of course, the percentage of the population that actually thinks the FBI digging into "subversive" groups is part of its job).

Users get no benefit from the information resale directly, but they also aren't generally harmed by it. And the benefit they get from having a ubiquitously-connected device in their pocket outweighs the (apparently calculated to be low) per-person cost to their information being resold. The fact that you or I may do the calculus differently for ourselves (because we have different risk sensitivity) doesn't impact those who don't reach the same conclusions.

What I'd say is that until somewhat recently, I was interested in politics but not engaged. I took your position during that part of my life. Now that I'm actually engaging in political activities, COINTELPRO and its current incarnations scare the bejesus out of me, and I'm not doing anything that radical, just left of the Democratic Party. YMMV.

There may come a time in your life when you wish to have a say in the political system or are wronged by a powerful corporation. You'd care in that case. When your political rights disappear, they aren't easy to get back.

I agree that one in that context cares, but I think you can agree that most people are not in that context. So on the whole, they receive benefits from deep data integration and no immediate downsides.

Which circles back to the original question: should a person feel guilt over creating tools that help the average user and harm the political dissident? Seems an open question. Perhaps one heavily dependent upon whether the actor agrees with the political dissident's position.

Generally, dissent is a healthy thing and you'll get a better society that way. Once the capability for real dissent is eroded, the social controls of the society will be turned to the benefit of the victorious faction. This turns out poorly for everyone else.

We should not be creating a mass surveillance state. The actual abuses domestically generally of minority populations, abroad, generally of non-NATO civilian populations, and potential domestic abuses (with many well noted assassinations and infiltrations in the past) are alarming and have already stronger, more precise abilities for social control of the population by the state than existed in dictatorships. The Stasi would have killed for the NSA's database and planting live tracking beacons on most citizens.

I'm on the left, but the non-financial political freedoms of the right are a bellwether for my own (though the literally genocidal far right is a more complex discussion). In general this makes a lot of logical sense because conservatives and right wing ideologues wish to maintain the status quo (literally to conserve it) or to return society to a past state (e.g. the relation of men and women, the role of religion, etc.), and range from libertarian to authoritarian, neither of which really threaten established authorities (and often reinforce them) and so are treated with kid gloves (watch how police treat right wingers at protests on average). Blue lives matter is a right wing cri de cœur that's an example of a "protest" that celebrates existing civil authorities.

Liberals and more-so leftists wish to change society into a new state which threatens the established order. Therefore, the civil authorities do not treat them with deference. Typically political freedoms lost by the right are applied with vengeance against the left.

Encourage dissent. We make fun of countries that don't. :)

EDIT: added info on why losses of political freedoms for the right are an especially bad bellwether

Perhaps we need more freedom in this scenario. We have public airwaves which are presently owned by corporations (the highest bidder) where in fact we ought to give everyone the freedom to carve out a slot of that bandwidth in their spatial region. We ought to homestead the airwaves giving individuals the ability to both send/receive and route packets. These airwaves should be treated like byways where everyone can send/receive packets. We'd carry an envelope of bandwidth around us wherever we travel by reserving common airwave (e.g. 2.4ghz, 5.8ghz, etc...). In this way, you starve the companies of their revenue, making their existence more difficult.

I'd like to ask anyone within RF earshot to carry my packets. I'd even consider paying for faster bandwidth if others were offering below some threshold. Some common low bandwidth communication should always work, say some fraction (split between freeloading users) of 20% of the link speed. I'll carry your packets if you're in earshot, rebroadcasting as needed, following the same rules. We could rotate our source addresses every so often.

You'd be persona non-grata (illegal) if you're recording and sharing who you hear. At the heart of it, saving and recording in perpetuity who you're communicating with and where ought to be illegal. Certainly selling that data should be too, or you end up with what we have today.

Does the UK encourage dissent? It doesn't seem to. And it seems to be doing fairly well.

All I have to say to that is that regardless of how you feel about them the US picked Trump and the UK picked Brexit. These were both events that demonstrated that elite opinion was so cloistered the rubes started throwing molotovs at the political system, in some cases just for the cheap laugh in the voting booth.

Yes, the UK absolutely needs additional dissent.

Really? Didn't you just demonstrate that when the "rubes" are given power, they vote Brexit and Trump?

That seems like a terrible idea.

If you create a dielectric barrier, the required charge to overcome it can have more effective power than the constant flow that would otherwise occur at a low resistance.

A potential victim's ignorance of their risk doesn't mean they aren't at risk.

Because I'm not specifically aware there's a cross-town bus with my name on it, I'm somehow not about to get pancaked?

Any source for this claim?

The general public and repeatedly-reported-upon understanding of how data collection can be leveraged to find unexpected insights not obvious from the data, coupled with the Snowden leaks, coupled with the ever-increasing user count for cellphones, Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet in general.

If people were deeply individually concerned about the risks vs. rewards of these technologies, they'd stop using them. That's the rubber-meets-the-road calculus I see.

Do you trust the public is informed about these technologies? I think you might be overestimating individuals... most folks still don't know about Cambridge Analytica.

> "If people were deeply individually concerned about the risks vs. rewards of these technologies, they'd stop using them."

Why do you think that? It clearly doesn't apply to stuff like oil, for instance.

I could give up my phone, but I would be in deep shit if I did it tomorrow. It would take a lot of arrangement to do so and it would piss off my family and lose me work.

Actually, I'd argue that it does apply to stuff like oil.

People say they're concerned. But the actual number of people attempting to zero the amount of oil they use? Much lower than claimed concern.

Words are easy. Actions have costs that people would prefer not to take on.

>the actual number of people attempting to zero the amount of oil they use? Much lower than claimed concern.

How do you know how many there are? Anyone doing that couldn't travel except by foot, buy any commercial products or use any available communication services.

edit - alternatively, there are loads of people attempting to zero the amount of oil they use. They are just using oil to get there.

Tu quoque.

See also: "Ayn Rand collected Social Security benefits." (And I abhor her oeuvre and "movement".)

Tu quoque requires someone to have made a claim in the first place.

I'm saying people make the claim on the average person's behalf that they want privacy and information such as their location (as triangulated by cellphone towers) kept generally secret from governments and corporations who can offer them benefits, and that claim is not actually supported by much evidence. I think the digital intelligentsia cares deeply; the average cell user, not so much.

And I'm saying that lack of care is a product of ignorance — ignorance in no small way imposed upon them by the shady behavior of the people who are doing this. As such, it can't be reason to blame them for that "choice". It's a passive choice. It's opt-out, without being told there's a option. And there isn't actually an option.

That is, if Verizon was unambiguous with Joe Customer, "We may sell your real-time location information to companies known to re-sell that kind of information to the government, and you can't do anything about it" how many of them would be pissed? Isn't the state being restrained from un-warranted — literally — snooping into people's lives a core American value?

Your position is that most people would "meh". I think you're wrong. You're probably right that there's scant evidence either way, though.

Kind of like how automobiles are a luxury, and if people cared about the 4th Amendment they just wouldn't drive anywhere. Nevermind that our way of life is literally not possible without the technologies in question.

Every single one of the revelations you've mentioned was met with public backlash, followed by either a misinformation campaign or intense dog-wagging. This is called manufactured consent. For example, let's look at Cambridge Analytica. When it was revealed that a military contractor was hired to subvert the 2016 Presidential election, the dominant story in the alphabet-soup media was a twitter tantrum from Trump. As it became clear over the next few days that the story wasn't going to be buried easily, the narrative was quickly shifted away from the subversion of democracy to blaming Facebook for leaking user data, culminating in parading The Zuck before Congress. He played his part perfectly: no bread, but enough circus to keep the masses from thinking too hard about what it means for an election to be free.

You'll have to unbox how driving is related to the 4th Amendment; I would have assumed you were going to observe people continue to drive even though 40,000 people a year die in car accidents.

People do the calculus to decide if risk is greater than reward all the time. It appears ubiquitous connectivity, for most people, is far more rewarding than risky.

In short, doing anything that requires a Driver's License severely restricts your freedom from search and seizure while traveling on public highways. To gain those rights back, you have to (de facto) forfeit your Driver's License and stop driving on public highways.

>People do the calculus to decide if risk is greater than reward all the time.

Technically you're right but what you seem to be missing is that people (in general) suck at risk assessment. Although they are doing "the calculus", most of their calculations are based on heuristics that just don't reflect a rational analysis.

That is why so many people fear plane travel more than car travel, immigrants more than cigarettes, and pharmaceuticals more than "raw water".

Several recent HN stories have had this kind of comment (first noticed with the Securus submission) that's a weird mix of "You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide" and "They will never come for you, you're too unimportant." Is this a sustained campaign or just a way for folks who have contributed to these issues to feel good about themselves?

> Is this a sustained campaign

This breaks the site guidelines. Could you please read and follow them when commenting here? https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Insinuations of astroturfing or shilling without evidence (an opposing view does not count as evidence) are an internet toxin that turns out to be worse than the things it insinuates, because it's so widespread. I've written a ton about why we don't allow that here, if anyone wants to read more: https://hn.algolia.com/?sort=byDate&dateRange=all&type=comme...

Welp, sorry.

It's just how a lot of people feel about the issue.

I'm not sure why you would jump to concluding that it's a sustained campaign or some kind of reaction to guilt.

Wilsonnb hit the nail on the head, it’s just how some people feel. Though I don’t doubt that some people involved in the creation of this phenomenon use the argument to justify their work.

I had a hard time understanding why people wouldn’t be more conscientious of their privacy, until I had discussions about the issue with people close to me.

My folks had a very similar sentiment to the typical “if you have nothing to hide, then why do you worry about it”. My girlfriend had the same thought, but took it a step further and asked why I cared so much about people uninvolved in my life knowing personal details about it, then said I was “the most paranoid person [she’d] ever met”

Once the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, they all understood my point. I think the majority of people who don’t work in tech don’t understand the massive implications that our lack of privacy has. They don’t know how cookies or backends or tracking pixels work, and may not even know they exist. They imagine an NSA agent sitting in a room looking for keywords, not companies that they entrust their digital lives to selling off every little piece of info about them. It’s so much more than your Facebook or Twitter posts being public, it’s data that we might not even know about ourselves being kept in the hands of unknown entities.

To sum up this rant, some people have to see it to believe it because this is outside their scope of knowledge

I'm surprised you've had conversations with tech laymen that understand what Cambridge Analytica is guilty of. Everyone I talk to, even reasonably tech-literate people, still don't understand the repercussions. I even point out the possibility of throwing a presidential election, and my mother said, "so what, isn't that just people pushing for the guy they want?"

It would be better if they did, yes.


This breaks the HN guidelines. Please read and follow them when commenting here.


Edit: you've repeatedly posted unsubstantive comments and we've asked you to stop before. We ban accounts that do this, so would you please not do it anymore?

I'm in the space as well. I've tried telling my congressmen but they ignore me. I'm waiting for the backlash, especially will all the recent privacy issues. It hasn't happened yet and the problem is so large that I honestly doubt whether the public will ever truly grasp what the scope.

The advice I always give when this topic comes up us to be very careful with what you install on your phone. The least expensive mobile location data tends to come from random apps collecting the data to sell it, and ad networks. Permission to use your GPS is permission to track you until you uninstall the app.

If you're willing to have your name attached to this, if / when it does finally blow up, please make an effort to talk to news organizations about who and when you initially reached out to congress people.

If you're not comfortable with your name being publicly attached, at least give news orgs the information and request confidentiality.

Part of the reason congress people can punt is that the cost of inaction < cost of action before it penetrates media.

A big part of shifting that equation is starting to publicize "You had all the information available now on X date and did nothing" as loudly as possible. Naming and shaming has been healthy for vulnerability disclosure.

Are you able to send them a copy of their individual location data, or the location data of their staffers/friends/family? That might make for a potent wake up call. Though, you'd want to run that by an attorney first.

Screw that. Put together a consumer stalking website, sell the data directly. Advertise, make tons of money, and let the outrage from that bring light to the entire industry.

And then be the only one sent to jail as the scapegoat for the rest

It's not illegal.

Do it on the dark web.

Move to Myanmar first?

To get initial traction, you can even call it “where’s waldo” to get the publicity of a trademark suit. go for broke — you’d be going to jail anyway once any meaningful legislation is put into place

The point is to encourage legislation. So happily shut down on a pile of money.

  I'm in the space as well. I've tried telling my
  congressmen but they ignore me.
If you have hard evidence, forward it to the journalist or newspaper that broke a similar recent story, or whose reporting of that story you respected.

Maybe you can find a journalist you respect for their reporting on Cambridge Analytica, the Paradise Papers, Edward Snowden and so on?

It's not that easy when you're not in their network. I've tried to contact a few journalists recently as I discovered twitter knows everything about youporn's user which considering their track record in term of security and the amount of politician in there could have some pretty bad effects.

It goes like this: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DczGQICUQAA9ljF.jpg

The domain "syndication.twitter.com" tracks everyone but the page says: "Sorry, that page doesn’t exist!". The point is I haven't been able to run the story so far

Seasoned cybersecurity journalists use Securedrop, Signal, Jabber and the U.S. mail to protect sources, among other tools.

that's only the low end. app gps usage shows up on the UI.

the article discusses when the ISP/telco sells the data that you have zero visibility on. there's no way to get around this.

btw, apple and google ad spyware process (google play service) will collect gps and wifi data without any user visible UI, not to mention download ads in the background.

> btw, apple and google ad spyware process (google play service) will collect gps and wifi data without any user visible UI, not to mention download ads in the background.

Would be nice to see actual proof of this. I am very familiar with all network traffic an iOS device may emit and do not know what you are referring to here.

Thanks for the tip. I've made a habit of turning off location services on Android once I'm done using navigation (Waze), do you know if this sufficiently blocks all background tracking for apps I've consented to allow GPS location tracking? Thanks.

Carrying a cell transmitter allows them to triangulate your position. It's not as awesome as GPS but it still meets a lot of needs.

What about a state senator or representative? Could your state start enacting a privacy framework, that would apply to businesses that wanted to do business in your state? Sort of like California emissions for cars.

Can you name and shame the congressmen that ignore you?

Or can you make a tip to one of the newspapers? Given the facebook privacy news saga this might get picked up.

I don't think naming and shaming will do anything, but maybe when somebody's location data embarrasses them, they will do something about it. I think a good analogy is the Video Privacy Protection Act.

I'm a liberal in Texas so being ignored by politicians is nothing new to me.

Talk to a congressperson who knows about cyber like Ron Wyden.

FFS. "Cyber" is an adjective. Not a noun.

Just because the less-technically adept parts of the infosec community & even more hapless government workers wanted to sound cool doesn't suddenly make it right.

That's how colloquial language develops, however.

This is true. But it doesn't make every new development an intelligent or useful one.

But then I also just enjoy responding with "Cyber what?" whenever someone uses it as a noun. The correlation between people who are asked and can then provide a relevant noun has not been high.

Seems kinda useful, to group knowledge regarding computers & the internet, and how they impact other industries.

Language just got cybered.

>It's not just your cell carrier. Your cell phone chip manufacturer, GPS chip manufacturer, phone manufacturer and then pretty much anyone on the installed OS (android crapware) is getting a copy of your location data. Usually not in software but by contract, one gives gps data to all the others as part of the bill of materials.

so what's the flow here? is it something like this?: phone gps -> manufacturer installed crapware app -> crapware server -> (various third parties)

wouldn't this be mitigated if you use a custom ROM like lineageos?

some of crapware can be avoided by using custom ROMs, but not all of it. For example: Qualcomm IZat location services and other location-based trustzone applets remain running even on custom ROMs.

You seem to be quite familiar with Qualcomm, but do you know if there's anything similar in Mediatek SoCs? They do have assisted GPS ("A-GPS"/"EPO") but from the info I can find (including leaked very thorough datasheets and programming manuals), it does nothing more than downloading already-public ephemeris data from an FTP server periodically. I've also inspected the firmware, and there doesn't appear to be any traces of the TrustZone/Trustonic stuff that you mention is present for Qualcomm; AFAICS the only thing running on the main CPU cores is Android itself, the modem runs its own baseband firmware, and the GPS/WiFi/BT/FM combo chip (which is a physically separate part, accessed over a serial interface with no direct DMA capabilities) runs a third firmware. Any "secure boot" features in MTK SoCs are (fortunately?) not very secure, so it's all quite easy to inspect.

There's some bits of interesting info here:



How is it sending the data though? if it's using mobile plans, wouldn't it be noticeable on the data usage plan? (or is it that manufacturers have agreements with carriers to not charge for it?)

> IZat location technologies use a network of cloud-based assistance servers that provide industry-leading location performance for any mobile device, on any network, in any environment.


Location data is what, maybe 1kB per sample, including lots of overhead? 100 samples/day is 3MB/month. It's not going to affect your mobile data budget.

Some people do not have a mobile data plan. Using mobile data in such case would typically be rather expensive. Unexplained mobile data charges, however small, would raise questions.

Can confirm. Chinaphone used mobile internet every day sending bytes. Tried using firewall, then butchered settings altogether.

This is my question too... nobody has explained this part.

>Qualcomm IZat location services

did a quick check, it's not on my phone (SD 820 SoC).

>other location-based trustzone applets remain running even on custom ROMs.

I have no doubt some proprietary blobs still remain on custom ROMs, but do those actually send back location data to the OEM?

You have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820? Oh yes, IZat is definitively there, along with other interesting trustzone applets :)

It is running under QSEE (Qualcomm) and/or MobiCore (Trustonic) OS, which is separate from your Android OS. It is left untouched by custom ROMs.

While most of the terms there aren't Google-able (QSEE, MobiCore, trustzone applets, etc) the IZat page seems to almost boast about the core argument:


Scroll down to "Cloud-Based Assistance" and "Built Right In."

I do not understand.

Even if there was a separate OS running in parallel with Android, how could it access the wireless-networks-based and satellite-based location data? I thought that access to these things is controlled by Android.

In other words, when I turn off e.g. satellite location data in Android, can IZat (which, according to your post, runs outside of Android) or other similar spyware keep secretly using it anyway? That would be quite worrying.

I suppose that the location data can be collected by sniffing the low-level communication between the radio device and Android kernel, provided that it has been enabled in Android first. But even then, how could this location data be transferred out of the device? Are these "parallel-running" OSs also able to somehow "tap into" Android's network layer and send the collected data out?

Oh, sweet summer child ...

"Even if there was a separate OS running in parallel with Android, how could it access the wireless-networks-based and satellite-based location data? I thought that access to these things is controlled by Android."

There is a separate OS running in parallel with Android and it is running on the very hardware that makes the network connections to the cellular network that you are speaking of.

In fact there are two - the OS and software stack that run on the baseband processor and the OS and software (java apps) that run on your SIM card, which is a full blown computer with its own memory and processor, etc. In fact, your carrier can upload new java programs to your SIM card without your knowledge at any time.

Your final question is a good one - many (most ?) implementations give the baseband processor DMA to the main, application processor. So you are hopelessly owned. Deeply, profoundly, hopelessly owned.

True++ there are at least 4-5 OSes on Qualcomm with direct access to the Internet:

1. Linux Kernel / Android OS, running on main ARM CPU in "normal mode"

2. QSEE or Trustonic OS, running on main ARM CPU in "trusted execution environment" mode, in parallel with "normal mode"

3. OKL4 / REX Kernel + AMSS OS, running on the baseband CPU (modem)

4. SIM card processor, although it is very limited (typically 32k RAM) and acts only as a MITM for SMS's, not cellular data

5. The OS running on the Wi-Fi card

Do you happen to know if Apple phones are any better with regards to privacy?

Does anyone know of any smartphone projects where the circuits are designed to give the user's OS (usually GNU/Linux, but could be anything the user fancies if the bootloader's free) control over power to the baseband CPU, SIM card processor, and OS on the Wifi card? As far as I know, the Neo900 project is the only one attempting to allow the user's OS to control power to all those other ones.

It doesn't exist. And in the current market, it can't exist.

All the core silicon is wrapped up in huge quantities of NDAs and licensing agreements. You buy a baseband, and the mfg gives you a blob you can either use, or not use the baseband.

Remember back when people got upset over Intel CPUs having a unique ID in them? Remember when people got upset over tracking pixels?

Since then, things went really bad, really fast, just no one noticed.

We noticed, but wailing and gnashing teeth doesn't achieve much. Unfortunately, without widespread education and outrage, nothing achieves much.

That's why I don't mind being "that guy" in social situations when these issues are brought up.

You seem flabbergasted so I wanted to directly answer your questions.

> how could it access the wireless-networks-based and satellite-based location data?

The OS is either running on the same hardware as Android or has the same direct hardware connections.

> I thought that access to these things is controlled by Android.

Only for things executing within Android. This is just a fancy UI - Android doesn't actually control the hardware.

> In other words, when I turn off e.g. satellite location data in Android, can IZat (which, according to your post, runs outside of Android) or other similar spyware keep secretly using it anyway?


> I suppose that the location data can be collected by sniffing the low-level communication between the radio device and Android kernel, provided that it has been enabled in Android first.

You shouldn't think of it as between the radio device and Android but rather between the radio device and the CPU. A CPU that another OS can and is running on. Android is not special here.

> But even then, how could this location data be transferred out of the device?

The same way Android sends data out of the device. The OS asks the CPU asks the radio to transmit some data. Bog standard.

> Are these "parallel-running" OSs also able to somehow "tap into" Android's network layer and send the collected data out?

Yeah but like I said its not Android's network layer. Android is a guest on top of the system just like any other OS running.

Most cellular devices have a Baseband processor with RTOS or run a hypervisor that runs a RTOS and your phone's operating system.

These OS images are untouched by your custom ROM because they're black box.


The SIM card is a separate OS that gets underneath the SOC's OS. It can run its own applets without the knowledge or permission of the SOC OS.


The baseband is a completely different RTOS as well. And then there's also TrustZone running in the SOC as well.

Are you sure? According to https://forum.xda-developers.com/android/software-hacking/ar..., they have corresponding apps running in the main OS as well.

what about exynos chips?

It uses these domains:




I'm not sure what part of the OS is sending it, but it's definitely happening (and is block-able!)

> did a quick check

How? Thanks.

searched up the package name, and according to https://forum.xda-developers.com/android/software-hacking/ar..., it's installed at /system/priv-app/xtra_t_app, which was not on my phone.

Also noticed that most posts had mentions of IZat in their location settings, which my phone did not have (in lineageos or stock)

You're looking in the wrong place.

TrustZone OS is started during SBL2 (secureboot level 2), running in hypervisor mode, while you're looking at the Android OS started during SBL3 (secureboot level 3). You cannot see hypervisor processes & apps from your vantage point (the android kernel).

The trustzone OS is usually located in TZ partition, and it uses some additional partitions for custom TZ apps and data persistence.

The hypervisor has independent access to the internet, the wifi card (for indoor location), and more.

Qualcom boot process, showing SBL1, SBL2 and SBL3 stages:


It goes without saying that without TrustZone OS, the phone won't boot to Android OS (won't proceed to SBL3).

You don't seem to appreciate the fact that the OS you interact with on a modern smartphone is essentially a guest.

There's a world of proprietary complexity you have zero visibility into, and much of it is running with direct access to hardware the application OS you interact with can only partially make use of.

Hopefully this shows people how deep it is.

If all that is claim in here isn't conspiracy, how can it stay a secret? Isn't it the reason wikileaks was created in the first place?

It isn't a conspiracy, it is just unnoticed, I'd argue due to news fatigue.

Heck, it has a hompage. https://www.trustonic.com/solutions/trustonic-secured-platfo...

How is it a secret? We're talking about it right now.

I think the issue is that most people end up just thinking "so what? What can they do with it?" and only think "I'm not doing anything wrong" (hate that phrase and origin). The consequences of this type of thing may be apparent to tech people, but not most of the public.

For those who want to try out LocationSmart, you can use it here: https://www.locationsmart.com/try/

They were about two blocks off, and located me by cell tower. Apparently they don't have (or at least don't admit to having) A-GPS level data for me.

Tested and same result.

I have a strong suspicion that it intentionally places you some distance from where it knows you actually are. Unless there is some underlying reason why it would never be 100% accurate -- I've seen dozens of people post their results and every time it's 1-300 meters off.

And it's not just "no one tests while under the cell tower" because the location it gave me was 150 meters in the opposite direction of the cell tower that I can see out my window. And the location it gave was smack in the middle of a neighborhood I know well and know to be free of cell towers. Or I'm just paranoid.

I just used the internet site it said up to 14 miles off in accuracy on the results page. It was actually 4 miles off with my wifi off and GPS off and ZLAT off. I'm also pretty sure the location it picked is very close to an existing cell tower.

What is ZLAT?

I'm guessing s/he meant IZat: https://www.qualcomm.com/products/izat

Did you have WiFi on? Several companies have basically mapped (wardriving) nearly every wifi spot in the US and have correlated that with GPS. The vast majority of these wifi spots never, or rarely, move. By using several known wifi locations and their given latency, you can accurately predict location without cellular or GPS, like, down to the tens of meters.

I'm somewhat weary. This might be the final missing piece to connect your mobile phone number to your mobile browser user agent, or even worse, your desktop browser agent.

If the mobile carriers are selling your real time location data, I don't think there is much stopping them from also selling your browser user agents.

I believe that dmichulke means that when the phone number is linked to the user agent it's much more dangerous than when they are sold without that connection being known.


Or leery

Interesting. I wonder if the mistaken use of "weary" comes from a combination of "wary" and "leery"! I always assumed it was because "wear" is pronounced the same as the first syllable of "wary". Unfortunately "weary" is already a word and "I'm wary of X" has a different meaning from "I'm weary of X", but similar enough that a lot of confusion could result.

Just tried it and was pretty accurate for me as well. How is it even legal for our cell phone providers to sell this data...?

You agreed to it when you signed the terms of service

Laws can and should override terms of service. The question of why it's legal isn't about contracts, but about basic privacy rights enforced (or not) by the legal system.

Can you post the SMS opt-in message you received? Curious as to whether this is exploitable as well

LocationSmart: Reply YES or YES LS to confirm consent for cloud location & messaging demo. Reply HELP for help, Reply STOP to cancel. Msg&Data Rates may apply.

That is what I was sent.

I'm betting the opt-in is something along these lines

"FirstName LastName wants to obtain your location..."

Also betting that you can put 160 characters into those fields, so effectively a blank SMS is received

Betting further still that you can just spoof the SMS reply

mine was 4.5 miles off

I'm a journalist interested in learning more. Please reach out. Will keep confidential. adam.satariano@nytimes.com

^^^ this is what to do if you've got info relevant

if you want to get it to blow up then (based on past experience of what seems to catch regulator/legislator interest) I'd say that someone tracking the locations of a load of politicians for a while, finding things of interest about places they've visited and then publishing on a news outlet would do the job.

Your approach starts off by making the very politicians that you want to help you extremely pissed off at you.

More effective would be to track a few key politicians, such as those on the committees that would deal with regulating these things, and also a few reporters who have agreed beforehand to participate.

Then the tracking on the politicians is turned over to the politicians, but NOT made public. The reporters write stories about this, illustrating the tracking detail by publishing what it showed about them.

This approach gets the news out to the public, personally shows the key politicians the scope of the issue (and that they are vulnerable too), and lets the public know that the politicians have seen proof of how serious the issue is so that the politicians know that they need to get to work on this because their opponents come the next election will certainly be gearing up to use it as an issue if they do not.

Expose's by investigative Journalists have often made politicians angry, but they have also effected change.

My idea is based on the fact that in my experience people rarely really care about privacy until it personally affects them.

Note for example Feinstein's reactions to domestic spying generally, and then spying on her specifically.

Will it blow up, even if the public is aware?

When Snowden revealed the extent of NSA activities, it caused a momentary uproar but the people moved on pretty quickly after that. As far as I know (and let me know if I am wrong!!), there was no fallout for the government, and business continues as before.

So I am not sure if people will care this time either.

Snowdens' revelations had a massive effect on the tech. sector.

It provided security people with ammunition to push things like encryption of data over "private" network connections, which prevented their misuse by governments (or at least made it harder)

It also pushed tech. companies to publicly take positions on government spying, in general by insisting they wouldn't co-operate.

Cynically, it moved the goalposts, but didn't solve the problem. This is still a positive outcome in the big picture.

Snowden's revelations arguably were a significant factor in EU privacy law, including GDPR. In the U.S., government has been unable to regulate big business for awhile, about privacy or anything else.

We, and the media mainstream, are still discussing Snowden, five years on.

Malta Spitz (German politician) did this to himself in 2010: http://www.dw.com/en/german-politician-reveals-six-months-of...

Good way to loose your job very quickly. I don't think we should have to rely on somebody sacrificing themselves to make a difference.

Not sure anyone would lose their jobs.

1) Be an investigative Journalist

2) Purchase access to these location vendors data

3) Correlate data with known mobile numbers of politicians

4) Find things in data that might be of interest to readers (e.g. "politician x was noted to be in the same place as Lobbyist y on 5 different occasions")

5) Publish Story :)

The more titillating version would be to crawl Backpage or similar successor service for phone numbers of escorts and correlate that with known phone numbers of public figures such as politicians to determine when both were in the same place at the same time. Then publish client lists, with links back to original escort ads for extra sensarionalism.

pay me the cost of a data set plus 6k for a month's labor and i'll do it.

still need an outlet for the story though

The Intercept would probably be interested in publishing something like this

yeah, but we'd need to make it first. like i said, i'd do it myself if i didn't have to maintain my moneymaking elsewhere.

Why not? How do you think change comes about, by complaining about it on a tech forum?

I you are willing to be blacklisted than more power to you. I wouldn't want to force that on someone.

I agree, wouldn't want to force that on someone either. However I am sure there are plenty of people willing to sacrifice for the "greater good" (such as myself - I have quit a job before citing ethical reasons). People have different risk tolerances, and also current life situations - understandable. Just don't think the expectation should be set that change will come around from anything less than drastic action.

Not if precautions are taken, and even if someone did, such a patriotic disclosure (if done responsibly a la Snowden) would put that person is very esteemed company.

Yes, but Snowden is currently living in exile, and there's no end to that in sight.

Few have the stomach for that sort of thing...

That's more because he released government secrets, not corporate. If the gov wasn't after him I'm pretty sure quite a few big companies would try to hire him.

And how can I buy this realtime data? Also

> Hedge funds or services who analyze it for hedge funds is the big one. It's normal to track hundreds of millions of people a day and trade stocks based on where they go.

Any articles/webpages about this one? Or a company name who is doing it?

Pinsight is a big one.

But there are too many to name. In 2018, you should assume that any free service (Unroll.me), web/mobile SDK (Slice), email client (Airmail), personal finance tracker (Mint), integration API (Plaid), geolocator (Foursquare), etc is monetized by selling your data en masse for market research.

It's not just location data. Dig into the TOS of free services you use. It's your receipts, your transactions, your subscriptions...all are "anonymized" to varying degrees of success. Even Meraki, the network router/switch company, sells location data.[1]


1. https://meraki.cisco.com/technologies/location-analytics

Link to pinsight: https://pinsightmedia.com

> Ever wonder what your consumer thinks minute-by-minute? Pinsight’s ID Suite gets behind the lock screen to understand the mindset of your best customer. Leveraging 24/7 insights from the mobile device, we uncover new audiences and discover new market opportunities so you can engage with consumers in ways that matter.

“Gets behind the lock screen”

Jeez that is some brazen marketing.

I hear "groping inside the knickers".

It's blatant and normalized.

Assuming you’re talking about Airmail, the iOS and Mac mail client[1] (which is not a free app), do you have any reference to back up this claim? Their privacy statement states:

> Airmail does not share your information with any third parties. We are not in the business of selling your data. However, we may disclose information if we determine that such disclosure is reasonably necessary to comply with the law.

They also state that they do not send information to their servers unless you enable push notifications, store data only for this purpose, and delete the data when you disable this setting.

[1] http://airmailapp.com

Yes I think you're right, sorry. I'm thinking more of the email clients like Edison [1] and Astro[2]. It gets hard to keep all of these apps straight :)


1. https://trends.edison.tech and https://mail.edison.tech

2. https://www.helloastro.com/privacy/

Hasn't Foursquare been doing this and nothing but this for ten years now?

Foursquare is selling business services based on the data they collect, not the data itself (as far as I know).

They sell direct location analytics: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/290543

This is mostly a distinction without a difference, because for firms that do this, one of those "business services" is providing a thin layer of analysis over the underlying data.

What I'm saying is they don't sell the raw location data they've collected. There is a huge difference between derived analytics and the raw point-by-point device-linked location data. It's a reduction of multiple terabytes of data down to a few kilobytes of identity-obfuscating information. I am not affiliated with Foursquare but I appreciate the direction of their pivot.

Honestly, since my line of work is similar (tangential) to what they do, my opinions are probably quite different from the moral majority who might read about this kind of issue without understanding the range of applications. I'm not sure what the solution is but I think there is a regulatory solution that preserves both consumer privacy and the extraction of economy-benefiting value. And I do think something needs to be done to protect privacy, even if it means negative impacts to the commercial space I am in.

Any company that sells you access to ad real-time bidding. You connect to a event fire-hose that gives you a nice standardized json for each ad target, with plenty of data about the user (including geolocation), and you choose whether to bid or not on each ad, in realtime.

It is an open standard:


Do you get that data before you place the bid? Can you can just bid the minimum amount so you never actually buy an ad, but get the tracking data anyway?

You get all the data (geo, user's year-of-birth, user interests, device type, etc) before you place the bid. All the json data fields are defined in the standard. I can see iOS and Windows-phone in the feed, it's not limited to Android phones.


You don't actually have to bid.

(HN is rate-limiting me) edit: Data is pushed to you as fast as you can process it. It's a firehose.

To get a seat on the exchange, you need to bid, and exchanges also don't allow you to store data of bid requests that you don't win for purposes other than bid algorithm optimization in their terms and conditions, since that's stealing data. If they find out you're freeloading, they'll cut you out.

Also, most of the data on it is pretty shitty with lots of fraud since the publishers want to get more money. The geo data is often fraudulent (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geographic_center_of_the_conti...), and that's why companies that bid hire data scientists to sift through the fraud.

There's also rarely, in my experience, year-of-birth or any personally identifiable data.

In a typical bid entry there are between 500 and 5000 bits of information relating to an individual, per the definition of GDPR. And that's not including the dreaded "IFA", which uniquely identifies the individual.

I don't agree with your claim that "the geodata is often fraudulent".

Anyone can read the linked pdf specification (above), download sample data from the exchanges, and judge for themselves.

Is it pushed to you or do you pull it? Is there no rate limiting?

That’s really creative honestly.

Advan, Reveal Mobile, QuestMobile, Pinsight, Streetlight Data, RootMetrics, OpenSignal, SafeGraph are a few of the companies selling various forms of mobile user location data.

Most funds actively try to stay out of the media. For some it's a core strategy.

( "Out of sight, out of mind" )

Crawling under the rock safe from the light of day.

On some level I don't blame them as our national media discourse is at a 5th grade level.

>> Hedge funds or services who analyze it for hedge funds is the big one. It's normal to track hundreds of millions of people a day and trade stocks based on where they go.

> Any articles/webpages about this one? Or a company name who is doing it?

Foursquare does it, there were some articles last year about how they pivoted to providing that data. They were able to accurately predict Chipotle customer declines after their food contamination scandals.

I'm not sure if they use this carrier location data, or just the data from the people who are still using their app.

Edit: here's one: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2016/04/2...

> This data is sold to whoever wants it. Hedge funds or services who analyze it for hedge funds is the big one. It's normal to track hundreds of millions of people a day and trade stocks based on where they go. This isn't fantasy, it's what happens every day.

I initially thought this was too far fetched but then I started duckduckgoing* and found this: https://www.fnlondon.com/articles/regulators-campaigners-sou...

* If 'googling' is a verb, why not this.

I read just recently that one of Foursquares biggest revenue slices is selling their users check in data to hedge funds. On a previous HN post, one commenter claimed the app Robinhood sells their order flow through clearing houses, which the net result is hedge funds and other such firms trade off of — under the assumption that Robinhood investors are emotional rather than educated.

Hedge funds in general seem like a major consumer of retail data, which makes sense. Home Depot just announced earnings: imagine if you knew exactly how many people went into Home Depot, walked out empty handed, and then went to Lowe’s... how you could profit off that data in the market.

Is this happening with iPhone as well, or primarily android due to the third party nature of the hardware?

The problem is once it's at the cell carrier level it doesn't even matter if you use a dumb phone. They know roughly where you are based on tower triangulation.

That's always been common knowledge, the shocker is that it's being transmitted to "everyone and their dog" or even being sold. Afaik that was never the case with dumb phones.

A dumb phone can be localized by cell triangulation. The US military disclosed that it was using such a technique in Afghanistan to locate Al-Qaeda targets (they disclosed this because Al-Qaeda had gotten so paranoid about he accuracy of US military operations that they had assumed they had human spies on the ground feeding the US information and began killing civilians on suspicion of spying).

> A dumb phone can be localized by cell triangulation. The US military disclosed ...

In the U.S., aren't dumb phones (or 'feature phones') locatable for E911 service?

if it doesn't have GPS, it doesn't have GPS

Using your phone's GPS requires cooperation from your phone, however, triangulation by timing is not only possible, but even required by the GSM standard, the signal continuously measures and encodes your "latency" to the tower needed so that you'll start transmitting your block slightly earlier if you're farther away so as not to overlap with the time slot possibly allocated for some other device.

It's not as accurate as GPS, but it gives a solid estimate of your location that neither you nor your phone can prevent unless you totally disconnect.

There are several ways to implement E911-like service, and at least one of them doesn't require GPS. Your phone can usually be seen by multiple cell sites, so it's just a matter of accurate timing.

What I meant was that selling location data obtained by triangulation wasn't / isn't done and would require different methods anyway.

...or maybe they had a lot of human spies to protect by telling tech stories.

> A dumb phone can be localized by cell triangulation. The US military disclosed that it was using such a technique in Afghanistan to locate Al-Qaeda targets (they disclosed this because Al-Qaeda had gotten so paranoid about he accuracy of US military operations that they had assumed they had human spies on the ground feeding the US information and began killing civilians on suspicion of spying).

they absolutely had spies on the ground who were likely civilians, eg the doctor who got bin laden's family's dna under the cover of a vaccine program. the narrative that they were only using cell tower triangulation may have a seed of truth but it sounds a lot like counterintel meant to throw off the trail to me.

To my understanding, the reveal of the use of cell triangulation was specifically to minimize civilian casualties, not to throw Al-Qaeda off the trail of spies.

I'm sure they also had spies on the ground, but I believe the explanation that innocent bystanders being killed was something they'd prefer to avoid.

Not my area of knowledge at all, so perhaps someone who knows radio better could chime in: Would it be possible to fool the triangulation from the device, by arbitrary (or intelligently) delaying the mobile radio signals? Or are they too dependent on timings and such to work?

> Would it be possible to fool the triangulation from the device, by arbitrary (or intelligently) delaying the mobile radio signals?

Not without messing up your ability to make and receive calls. Cell towers use precise timing and power-level measurements in order to do things like decide which cell-site is best, and to hand-over your call from one tower to the next without breaking your call or glitching.

Edit: Even if you were to play around with timing of responses of the radio signal, you have no control over how it radiates in free space. The time-delta between reception of the same signal by 3 towers at known locations is enough to triangulate your position. Maybe a unidirectional antenna pointing to just one tower might work, if there are no other towers within the beam behind it and no sideway leakages.

With highly directional antenna and carefully selecting your position, you could try to have your signal only to be heard by a single cell tower at the time. The network would get your distance from the tower, but with direction info from just one tower would be less accurate.

Expanding this, you could have N directional antennas pointed to N cell towers, and some individual delays on each of those antennas, it might be possible to fool the network triangulation. Such a setup would look highly suspicious if you were carrying it around, and it definitely wouldn't fit in your pocket.

There are no available cellphone radio baseband computers/transceivers that allow you do do things with that. You would literally have to implement the entire cell baseband from scratch with a software defined radio. It would be a very non-trivial project.

And it'd be useless unless you had many of these custom transmitters faking your signal spread out over large physical distances.

OsmocomBB and LimeSDR would like a word with you. Yes, the former is limited to GSM, the latter doesn't come with a TX amp and you'll need to supply suitable mid-power RF (no cooling for passives, carefull cooling of actives) antenna circulator/filter/switch, if you want to use your new amp. The hardware should be under 2k$ manufacturing in single-unit quantities, but it is HF design, including some distributed-element filters and power-handling at low GHz frequencies. Nothing particularly trivial to design, though the requirements in precision are not too stringent, so you won't need someone who can demand >100$/h while working outside of a major metropolitan area.

TLDR: GSM+LTE open-source SDR/hacked dumbphone baseband exists, suitable hardware is COTS for sub $2k.

As an amateur radio operator, I would expect nothing less for carrying a highly networked radio transceiver with loads of sensors including geopositioning.

Simply put: don't want to be tracked? Put your phone in a lead sealed box or leave it at home. Tracking only tracks the phone , not your person.

Yeah they know where you are at any given moment, but they don't have to record it. And they especially don't have to sell it to third parties. That's what we mean by "tracking".

So basically either give up your right for privacy or don't use any new technology? That doesn't look practical. A better idea would be to ban cell carriers (and anyone else) from using location data for anything except explicitly permitted by law, like help in emergencies or conducting investigations.

What would be most effective would be a pair of rules in tandem:

1. Allow the location data to be utilized by the cellular carrier only for legitimate engineering purposes relevant to the delivery of the cellular services. (The network needs to know your location in real time in order to route calls to you.) Also, allow the use of real time location data for emergency services in response to an emergency call. Potentially also allow the use of emergency services initiated real time locations, with a non-suppressible UI required to be presented to the user if this is performed.

2. Require that the cellular service providers purge / NOT retain this location data for any longer than is literally required to provide proper service.

The data retention policy #2 item here is essential in preventing temptation to come up with end-runs for the first rule. It's important that historic data that has no legitimate use under rule #1 not be preserved so that there isn't a mound of accumulating data of theoretically increasing value if only we could change / get rid of rule #1. That sort of thing will create ever mounting incentive to repeal / replace rule #1.

> The network needs to know your location in real time in order to route calls to you.

At least for GSM, that isn't as true as you say it. It only needs to know in wich group of cells you are, as as re-registering with each cell change was deemed too heavy on the battery, and they rather page for your phone in the entire location area.

Likewise, triangulation requires the phone to send something, which means that you can notice that, and also that continuous triangulation will drain your battery.

(Which brings up the question of how often and how smartly google sends updates for the traffic density map.)

For communications technology: yes, that seems to be the norm.

Don't like the rules of the road, don't drive.

Don't like that your data goes over a third-party's network to get to its destination, don't put your data on a third-party's network.

Bans "by law" only work until the people making the law become people interested in your location and they change the law.

Doctors for example are not allowed to tell everyone about your health problems. I don't see why the same rules cannot work for telecoms.

So basically either give up your right for privacy or don't use any new technology?

I think this is probably correct.

The problem with the ban you suggest is that it will degrade service in many instances. Some level of location tracking is necessary for all cellular phones to make a smooth handoff between towers or for example to load balance connectivity between different towers.

In the end the more personalized the service you want to have, the more "invasive." Opt in is probably the best total solution, however it quickly becomes an education game if you want it to be effective, and most people don't have the time or technical understanding to put up with a dozen different opt ins.

Uh, not really. They can still utilize location data to make smooth handoffs and the other services you mention without bending us over and fucking us with a rusty chainsaw.

They do not need to sell location data to other parties in any way, shape, or form.

A better idea would be to ban cell carriers (and anyone else) from using location data for anything except explicitly permitted by law, like help in emergencies or conducting investigations.

That doesn't do anything to protect your data from being accessed by the State, which is actually the bigger problem.

If it does great harm for the state to have this data, and also great harm for the cell carriers to have this data...

Why thwart one great harm yet happily tolerate the other?

Does it cause "great harm" for private businesses to have access to this? I'm not sure sure. After all, there is a qualitative difference between the State, which employs men with guns and arrogates to itself the right to use force to impose its will on people, the right to jail people, etc.

If Starbucks knows my location, they can send me a coupon if I enter a Dunkin' Donuts store. If the State knows my location they can falsely accuse me of a murder that I just happened to be near the location of and - if I'm unlucky or have a bad lawyer - execute me for it.

That's not, of course, to say that there aren't some cases where a private business having access to my location could have a deleterious effect. But here's the rub: if you rely on regulation to prevent those cases, you're right back to needing to trust the State, which is - IMO - a foolish proposition.

It doesn't really matter, if a business has the data and the state wants it, the state gets access to the data via the business.

The division is so trivially violated it's pretty much irrelevant.

Securus is in the news today [1], an excellent example of how irrelevant it is that the private sector vs. the government is performing the surveillance. It's just information, information knows no boundaries.

But those largely cosmetic boundaries certainly play a large role in public perception and acceptance of living in a surveillance state.

[1] https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/gykgv9/securus-ph...

> Does it cause "great harm" for private businesses to have access to this?

Wide availability of tracking data facilitates domestic violence and stalking, for starters.

Say that someone gets killed by their ex who found them through tracking data leaked by some irresponsible and/or profiteering company. How do we hold that company accountable? How can we prove that it was them who leaked the data, when it's everywhere?

We can't hold the credit authorities like Equifax accountable today for the identity theft they facilitate. This is the same problem. The aggregation of our individual data by companies causes massive negative externalities, borne by individuals.

Another example: widespread availability of tracking data lets burglars know when they should break in and rob you.

Again, this cost is not borne by the data aggregator -- it's a negative externality borne by individual citizens. Good luck suing them.

Whataboutism. Yes, there is a bigger problem. No, that should not prevent us from solving the smaller problem first. With regard to the bigger problem, we build checks and balances in the legal system.

That doesn't mean banning corporations from exploiting your location is a bad idea, even if it's not the optimal privacy-enabling solution.

I don't think we want an outright ban. I certainly have the right to allow a corporation to access my location if I choose to. There may be cases where an individual would judge it in their interest to allow a corporation to have such access.

The problem with the current setup is that we don't know who's gaining access, when they're gaining it, what they're doing with it, etc. Once the cell carriers have it, there's no easy way of knowing who they are selling the data to, and who that entity sells it to in turn, and so on.

Sadly, I don't see a good way to resolve this at the moment. If you use a cell-phone the carrier can always get your (at last approximate) location through triangulation. And regulation only makes sense if you trust the State, and I would like to think we've all learned better than to do that by now. So what do we do?

Define me the following then about the metadata:

Who does your cell phone's location belong to?

Who does the tower's connection data belong to?

Who does the multitude of tower signal strengths belong to?

Who does the user's cell phone data belong to if allowing multiple apps to use it?

Answer: User's location data belongs: to the user, 3rd party apps they have allowed, and terrestrial cell companies that run towers with the appropriate frequencies for your phone.

The technology isn't the right area to change it. In the end, you're doing stupid stuff with encryption and still emitting point-source radiation that can and will be triangulated.

The best option would be to require the data be properly anonymized before being stored, used, or sold. That way the companies can still sell it for profit, the buyers can still gain useful insights from the data, and the users location is not available to anyone with enough money.

I'm not sure how possible it is to anonymize that kind of data in a way that prevents it from being deanonymized, or how useful the anonymized data would be to the buyers, but this seems like a better solution than a blanket ban to me.

There's no need for lead sealed box, Faraday cage will do. :) I think they even sell phone casing Faraday cage nowadays.

Even simpler: don't want to be tracked? Don't have a mobile phone.

It doesn't help.

Your next car will support telemetrics. Your insurer will know how fast and how often you drive. Your wife will know where you've been going after work. The cloud will gather and retain everything else of non-obvious value, up to the point where it all magically disappears when your self-piloting car drives itself through a schoolyard at recess and the company claims they don't have enough data to determine their responsibility, and insinuates that perhaps it was your fault.

All your future appliances will be factory-bugged so Amazon can listen to you arguing with your wife and sell you marital counseling books. Or they sell you imported counterfeit electronic shit, leaving bored interns with unchecked privilege (or strangers poking around on SHODAN) to activate those products' extraneous cameras to spy on your daughter undressing.

The ubiquity of cellphones in the hands of the masses mindlessly recording every droll moment of their lives in public for a chance at YouTube fame, combined with better and better facial|licenseplate|whatever-recognition algorithms means you're always on a camera somewhere, your movements being tracked and your identity easily annotated. Your wife's divorce lawyer will have a field day with this.

Don't want to be tracked? Hoard cash and modify the serial numbers. Throw away everything with a network interface or bidirectional antennas of any kind. Don't leave the house. Slap tinfoil on your windows. Make yourself a nifty pirate hat with the remainder. Your friends and neighbors will think it's endearing for a while, then they'll stop coming around for some reason.

Just don't take a selfie of yourself in your fortress of solitude without scrubbing the geolocation data from the EXIF tags!

Parts of your analysis are hyperbole, clearly, and I think that undercuts what are several very important points.

There are still areas in which you can make choices. You can still buy appliances with no internet connections at all, or buy open hardware and run open source software. This is what I currently do.

Surely inexpensive and/or used cars will dispense with GPS and other high tech features; in addition, I wouldn't be surprised if (should this become a regular problem) a modding community develops around car ownership (ownership in the sense of right-to-modify).

This doesn't change the fact that it is incredibly concerning that always on tracking run for-profit is becoming the default, but I think it's too early to say we can't opt out. That's why I think cell phones are qualitatively more worrying. They're quickly becoming necessary devices for anyone in a salaried job, and they represent an always-on tracking device that's effectively glued to my hip. It is absolutely crucial that something be done abut these privacy violations, if not through legal means, then through hacking. If that turns out to be impossible I'm going to have to find a way to stop carrying a phone.

It would be nice to see Purism respond to this report given their work on the librem 5.

>You can still buy appliances with no internet connections at all, or buy open hardware and run open source software

For a little bit. As you say, bad money pushes out good money. Most people will buy devices with tracking. Since more of them will be made, their prices will be lower than devices without tracking. Especially since the tracking will be profitable for the companies making the devices. Eventually you'll find all devices have tracking hardware and on some it will just be disabled. Either unplugged physically, or turned off via software.

What's hyperbole? I heard all this predicted when smart phones came out, and people said it was paranoid hyperbole then. It wasn't.

If anything the parent's predictions are probably conservative.

The thing is, we've already been there and done that. You think you have choices, but you won't for long. We're all boiling one degree at a time.

> You can still buy appliances with no internet connections at all, or buy open hardware and run open source software.

Maybe, if you know what to look for. Most consumers don't. They'll buy a Dell and not realize Computrace exists. I work in the field and I don't even know a fraction of what I don't know. I'm just one asshole defending against legions of better-paid actors with an infinite capacity for insidiousness.

Just wait until some well-meaning, progressive state like California decides to legislate that all houses must be smart-conforming. All aspects of your house will have a network interface whether you like it or not. How many homeowners are capable of setting up VLANs for their lightbulbs? How many homeowners are going to deconstruct every (networked by default!) smart-item they purchase and check for motion sensors, cameras and microphones? The NSA backdoored smart TVs already. Huawei backdoored routers, and Blu sends god-knows-what to China in the background. It's happening.

In this day and age, you may as well assume every product that comes out of Silicon Valley is a glorified exfiltration agent. If you give anything a network interface, by god it's going to use it to report something, and you don't know that it's happening or what's being communicated. You-have-no-control.

Given the recent interest in mesh networking I expect that to become a new vector-- install enough Huawei appliances in an area (give them away for free, or undercut competing vendors), each serving as a wireless mesh node, and you only need one internet-facing node (like a Huawei cellphone or router) in that mesh to be able to command and control any of the devices or peripherals around it. If anybody questions why a digital pictureframe is emitting wireless signals, it's for the discovery service, of course. It has to get updated weather information from somewhere, right? Consumers will accept that. And thus you invite a decentralized botnet into your home.

> Surely inexpensive and/or used cars will dispense with GPS and other high tech features; in addition, I wouldn't be surprised if (should this become a regular problem) a modding community develops around car ownership (ownership in the sense of right-to-modify).

Used cars will, until that pool dries up, yes. How many cars can you find that still use carburetors in favor of ECU-controlled fuel injectors?

We lost the right-to-modify battle the day ECUs became standard in all cars, inexpensive or not. Without proprietary knowledge, you can dink around with the oil and tires, but you can't fundamentally change how the car works. You can't even change the brake fluid on some cars without a proprietary command telling the pump to expel it. The war for right-to-modify will be lost when we're all driving Teslas (or John Deeres).

You can hack it, sure, about as competently as you can hack a PS4 or iPhone. The day will inevitably come where you want to use a particular app or service you paid a premium for (like warranty repairs, autopilot, PS Online or iTunes) and they'll tell you to pound sand unless you install their factory-certified firmware that opts-in to tracking. Or new games/features will simply refuse to work on your hacked firmware. You will be left in the dust.

That also assumes your insurer doesn't find out you tampered with an otherwise autonomous car, potentially impacting its safety features by refusing OTA updates and putting you in a higher risk pool. They may decline to insure you altogether.

There are consequences for not complying with progress; you yourself mention one of them. I'm disappointed you think it's hyperbole-- this attitude is why things have degraded to the current state of affairs.

>You can't even change the brake fluid on some cars without a proprietary command telling the pump to expel it.

What car brand does this? The only thing that came up on a Google search was a comment on Quora that said that mechanics can command the ABS to go into a self bleed cycle to purge air (no brand was mentioned). Is this what you're referencing?

Unless your car has similar technology.

It's android for the hardware manufacturers and OS crapware getting location data.

For iOS, assume every app using your location is selling the data. That means every app using a map or location smoothing SDK (GPS jumps around, there are services to smooth it out), since the map SDK providers (and there's not many) are selling your data even if the app itself isn't.

Google, Apple, Microsoft etc are pretty careful for good reason. Anyone below that is probably selling it.

Every app that has access to nearby WiFi SSIDs (or even just the one you’re connected to) can also turn this data into location data.

In fact I don’t think that is even a gated permission on iOS.

This isn't a user-gated permission but an Apple-gated one. Apps can't retrieve the nearby SSID list unless they have the "Hotspot Helper" entitlement from Apple. https://developer.apple.com/documentation/networkextension/n...

Good to know, but that’s only marginally better, as a malicious app developer only needs to come up with a legitimate reason for the entitlement.

The original article seems to be saying that the carriers track and sell phone location by cell triangulation ("less accurate than using GPS, but cell tower data won't drain a phone battery"). This is less accurate, as seen by the example of "within a city block."

The parent comment seems to be saying that the OS and apps use the internal GPS data to get a much more accurate location, which is then freely transmitted somehow and shared and sold. My question is to clarify that this more accurate data, needed to enable the "walk into specific store" scenario, can only be obtained via data (eg 3G, LTE, or wifi)?

Therefore not buying a data plan or turning off cellular data manually should prevent the GPS-accuracy tracking, but the only way to prevent the less accurate cell-tower tracking is to use a faraday cage.

Or just turn off location services when you’re not using them.

Turning off Google Now & location services will radically improve battery life on standby.

No. Search this thread for Qualcomm, QSEE or IZat.

That has no affect on this tracking.

The tracking seems to be happening below that level. I had all location services turned off, it dropped a pin on the very room of the house I was in

Allow me to ask some questions :)

> It's not just your cell carrier

No reason to think this is only US right?

> cell phone chip manufacturer, GPS chip manufacturer

How & when is this transmitted and what other data apart from lat & long?

> pretty much anyone on the installed OS [...] is getting a copy of your location data

You mean the devs of whatever app is installed on the phone? The outgoing data should be visible in things like Charles proxy, right?

Is this analogous to FB data being available to any dev that gets permission to access your profile?

> It's normal to track hundreds of millions of people a day and trade stocks based on where they go

Whaaa ... ? Do explain, fascinating.

Can this all be mitigated by those smartphones-hardened-for-criminals type devices?

> Whaaa ... ? Do explain, fascinating.

The stock trading I've heard of, and even seen news articles about before.

Location tracking lets stock traders know how well a store is doing well before public results are announced. If foot traffic is down at a store, time to sell off (or short) the stock before it becomes publicly known.

This is a problem with the GSM/UMTS standards themselves. Carriers always know where you are, but one could create a standard where they wouldn't have to know unless you make a call. With enough encryption and effort, I'm pretty sure one could even create a standard where carriers would never know where you are, even while you are using services.

Would not it be easier to ban anyone from using this location data for anything except explicitly permitted by law? The problem is not with standards, the problem is with people.

Banning things works relatively well for people because they fear having trouble with law and justice. Doesn't work that well for corporations whose law department is just like any other department. In this case you must assume that if it's technically possible then it's done.

This argument can be used against any law, like antitrust law. Having a law department doesn't give you a free pass to break laws.

Unless we start throwing the legal department and higher ups into prison then it basically becomes a free pass to break laws. Currently, we assess fines to corporations that violate these laws.

It then becomes a cost/benefit analysis weighing the likelihood of getting caught * cost of potential fine vs business value of ignoring the law. Ignoring the law is frequently the correct decision.

Agreed. There needs to be criminal liability for folks like Stumpf and other big bankers/corporate overlords.

But do you think our government will ever stand up? Doubtful

Maybe not, but when the cost of breaking the law is less than the gain, it seems logical. A law department is probably better equipped to make that calculation.

edit: Reading into the context of 'too big to fail' and 'collateral consequences' reveals exactly that kind of behavior.

No, but when there are only civil penalties at risk, it becomes a business decision, not a moral one.

Exactly. I assume that's part of the point.

But having a law doesn't mean people or corporations won't break it out of the 'kindness of their heart'. Or because they're 'good people'.

For example, look at 'No gun zones'. You think a criminal is not going rob a bank at gun point because the bank is a no gun zone? If anything it incentivizes them because they know they'll have a monopoly of force upon entering ( if they have a gun, and can fairly assume no one else will because of 'no gun zone' policy )

They will just move it all offshore.

How does one determine which tower to route an incoming call through, in your model? How could roaming work?

Spoiler: I don’t think doing what you are describing is feasible.

I can't find a link, but this problem was foreseen and solved by Robert Morris Jr. He wrote a paper on how users could register their location with a 3rd party using a hash of their IP address. When someone wanted to call them, they would contact that 3rd party for the location then route to the cell. The cell knew someone was there, it just didn't know who. And each 3rd party only had info on a few users, and no choice over which ones it had, if I recall correctly.

Looks like there is info here:


This is the way we should have designed these networks from the beginning. It was inevitable that the stuff in TFA would happen, given the interests of the companies involved and no regulation to prevent it. Same with FaceBook and Cambridge Analytica.

Couldn't you build a lookup table that reverses hashes back into their IP addresses? It might not be worth it for IPv6, but it would probably work for IPv4.

Calls could be done over IP, and as long as you could anonymously authenticate to the tower then you could be granted a new IP address at each tower via something like DHCP. I imagine roaming and handovers would have to be done on the end-device though; the end-device would need to proactively associate to new towers and both ends of the voice call would need to agree to switch to the new IP address.

But if the tower operators collude then they can still track you across towers by localizing the physical source of the end-device's signal.

If you really wanted to do this, a more secure approach is onion routing. It's essentially the same problem -- attempting to preserve anonymity in the face of adversarial network hardware, while being limited by a requirement to enter / exit through certain nodes.

So you'd want a mesh network, formed adhoc out of currently in range cellular device neighbors, with packets re-encapsulated and encrypted at each hop, eventually hitting the tower from a random device.

Authorization would be impossible (the intent of the scheme) without a side channel (as you can't simultaneously have individual authorization and individual anonymization). Which makes it a non-starter for commercial use.

Oh yeah, that's an interesting solution.

I'm not sure simultaneous authorization and anonymization is impossible. Couldn't you use something like Chaum's e-cash to obtain tokens that guarantee the holder the right to use the network for some amount of data, but these tokens are tradeable and therefore the spender doesn't have to be the same as the buyer. Then you could spend this token in the network to get access and the network could authenticate the token without identifying the spender. I'm guessing something like zcash could be used as well...

That's what I meant by side channel. So yes, you can split authorization responsibilities into a different entity, but then that entity is going to be able to deanonymize you.

And it wouldn't play well with billing accounts being deactivated / reactivated.

And... now that I think about it, given the tower:location mapping, you'd also have to include bouncing traffic back out to a non-tower-sharing peer and then back into their tower w/ randomized timing, else outer layers of encapsulation would still identify tower association.

Which means latency would be utter crap.

Anonymous attestation protocols is a thing

"without a side channel"

Do you have any links where this is done without a third party?

Blockchain? No, seriously, just a block-oriented write-ahead-log replicated to the towers, allowing them to cheaply-ish verify a proof-of-traffic quota.

Proving to the tower that you are a paying user should be easy, but routing the data securely will not be as easy. You'd probably need some kind of onion routing or similar on the back haul, unless you want to forego incoming calls. I would not like to have to forego those. Also, why even bother with DHCP, just say that the tower assigns you an IP, without knowing your MAC, right after you were able to prove that you are a paying customer. Handling data quota is going to be non-trivial there, as you'd either need to route everything to the provider anyway, or have a DoS-proof way of decreasing your remaining quota, e.g. by signing a new value with some key of yours, ensuring that the tower can't use that as your ID (maybe don't tell him or so), and then have to prove to the tower that your quota really got diminished, preferably without revealing how much is remaining, and just telling the tower that you still got something to spare. The main issue seems to be that you'd have to hold a session with each tower where you got quote allocated, as you can't re-run that quote proof for each packet. The finest granularity that seems remotely reasonable would be like 16kiB of traffic, which you would deduct form your account, let it get claimed by the tower, and then be required to repeat for each successive block (obviously you could assign larger blocks, but a block, once assigned, can't be put back without serious unnecessary cryptographic hurdles.

I am not well-versed enough in these cryptographic details to tell you how one could do this exactly, but I doubt it's impossible/infeasible to create a cellular protocol technically as powerful as LTE, but without tracking ability by the tower or the provider (byzantine fault tolerance, stochastic).

Off the top of my head, you could have this system: you use a new id that authenticates you with the carrier every n packets, and you do the routing from the source to your id on a server that you control yourself.

Spoiler. The utility of the live call is overstated. Most of the people I interact via a phone vastly prefer async SMS over sync voice calls. We can do SMS via polling, the network doesn't need to push anything to us.

People text so much because there is an expectation the other person is going to respond pretty quickly. There is definitely value derived from having people accessible all the time, and I doubt a service would sell if people weren't.

Poll every X seconds if the last message was is no older than Y minutes. Poll every Z minutes otherwise.

> where they wouldn't have to know unless you make a call

Presumably this is actually "unless you make a call or use data"?

They have to know your location if you want to receive a call.

With the current setup, sure, but that's by design. The cellular modem could stay off until you decided to take the call if there was a nationwide page circuit listening, the user would get the ring, see the number the page sent, and if desired, answer, which powers on the modem, hits a tower and connects to a backend system that sent the page which took the incoming call.

Page messages are in-the clear, but that's fixable by (gasp) OTP.

You want every single cell phone call in the world to send out a signal over every single cell tower?

No. But at a certain point, with the high speed modulations we have today, it is totally feasible to broadcast these passively to a multi-state region encompassing a radius of hundreds of miles.

There's not a legitimate engineering reason that the network needs to maintain constant fine-grained location data for each registered device at this point. The scope of the registration can be far more widely cast.

This would even have upsides for the devices and users. As check-ins to the network in which the device must transmit to the network would be far reduced, battery life improvements can be had.

Yes, this increases the amount of "broadcast" traffic, but honestly, even for some of the busiest telco switches in New York or LA, those data streams don't even approach the throughput requirements of a single HD Youtube stream...

/napkin overestimate using US 6B/calls/day with a nationwide 256B packet each, that's roughly a 100Mbps broadcast channel, which is ~5 digital TV channels, or one geostationary satellite's half-duplex bandwidth if it could see the entire US. As mdhardeman points out, it's easier than that, and there is plenty of room for re-transmission.

What is the passive bitrate of a tower->cell connection? LTE/GSM whatever.

With everyone's phones receiving and parsing that, batteries would die very quickly.

Pagers parse every single page. They only alert you when it's to your address. /napkin is just that, if you designed the protocol this would be very doable. The receiver can passively listen quite cheaply energy wise. This is nothing like decoding a video stream.

And ethernet and 802.11 receive every frame, whether it's addressed to the equipment or not.

How can one prevent this and still carry a cell phone? Would keeping one's phone in a faraday bag defeat this constant tracking?

I don't think it's possible through technological means to avoid being tracked and still use a wireless network. Even if you could anonymously authenticate to the network, if the base stations have a large number of antennas then they can locate the physical origin of your signal and track you that way.

It may be possible of course through other means, like government regulation or only using carriers that have some guarantee of privacy.

I mean unless you've got a ham license and bounce your signal through your own network of relays using a different band than the final signal to the cell tower. But I don't think that's going to work as a popular solution. Would be a really fun experiment to build though.

I wonder if you could still use latency timing to get a rough fix on location through a secondary network like that. Not that anyone would be trying to.

I'm pretty sure in most countries you can't carry encrypted traffic through ham packet radio.

A good start would be using a prepaid mobile phone (paid with cash, via an intermediary to avoid appearing on store CCTV), plus using phone apps that are not tied to your real identity. A Faraday bag for the phone when it's not in use.

Honestly, it just depends on how paranoid you want to get, and who your adversary is.

> using a prepaid mobile phone (paid with cash, via an intermediary to avoid appearing on store CCTV)

Nathan Fielder provides a good demonstration on how to properly do this:


If your goal is to simply avoid your location being sold by your carrier for marketing purposes, an intermediary seems a little excessive, no? Unless you have reason to believe that your local pharmacy or cell shop is selling facial recognition data as well ...

Selling facial recognition data is the next big revenue stream. There is a reason the Googles of the world are gushing over installing internet connected surveillance cameras on every block [0].

[0] https://nest.com/cameras/

Last I heard, buying a "burner" phone in this way has been outlawed in many states.

I have been 'caught' buying a burner phone - many years ago - and since then I have thought about why it is that anyone can buy a burner phone without having to produce their mother's birth certificate and many years of bank statements. You would think 'terrorists' and drug dealers should be banned from such purchases.

However, if you have a burner phone for whatever reason, you are tracked and it is a relatively simple task for a three letter agency to see when that burner phone swaps cell towers and what other phones swap cell towers at the same time.

Consequently, for tracking purposes, letting anyone have a phone is what they want.

Even with the best efforts at 'operational security' a mere mortal is going to end up getting tracked.

Think of it a bit like 'shadow Facebook profiles'.

For instance, in the drug dealer scenario, the guy has one phone to speak to his mum and girlfriend and another set of interchangeable burner phones for his customers. It is all too easy. I am sure that the agencies can turn on the cameras too, fortunately the police still run Windows XP and have too much paperwork to fill in for this type of stuff.

After reading this article I am not so sure this will be the case for long.

Regarding the 'nothing to hide' rationale, if anyone has had a sick, crazy psychopath stalker pursue them for YEARS then being on the electoral roll or being on Facebook can be as good as fatal. There are good reasons to not want to be tracked, even if you have one stupid person focused 24/7 on stalking you rather than an agency/police force doing it.

I buy burner phones and SIMs all day every day as test equipment because I develop for mobile equipment. Sue me, assholes.

Yes, electrostatic shielding will stop the signal, which will also prevent incoming calls/msgs/etc.

Taking the battery out?

Switch to flight mode.

Removing the battery is a better choice.

I have an iPhone, you insensitive clod!

Yes. But switching off location will probably do it too.

Carriers will still be able to track you via the cell towers you're connected to. I'm sure they can triangulate based upon signal strength, and that's strictly using your cellphone as a dumb phone.

> "But switching off location will probably do it too."

Wrong. Phones can be triangulated by the carriers regardless.

Can we trust the GPS receiver to be powered down when we the OS tells us it's powered down? I know Android keeps listening for WiFi stations even if you tell it to turn off the antenna. Might it do the same thing with GPS?

No switching off location would not do it - why would it? Cell tower data is sold at the carrier as per the article.

I'm focused on GPS data which is a free for all. Sure, cell towers have location too just not quite as accurate.

It may help in regards to your exact location via GPS, but cell companies can still triangulate your location based off how strong your signal is to certain towers in the area and which towers you have connected to recently.

Defense contractors have been using this capability for competitive intelligence for the last few years. Namely performing surveillance of contractors both internal and external to their company. Private investigators are using the same capability for similar purposes, especially for litigation support. “How” is never required to be revealed in court because the primary purpose is to find information that will “encourage” the other party to not go to court. If there was a way to audit queries/lookups performed against specific telephone numbers I think a lot of people would be shocked.

okay, so, to cut to the chase here: how do we disrupt or destroy the companies doing this?

it isn't acceptable that they are taking advantage of us in this way.

we can't expect any political solution to the problem, which leaves us to pursue other means if we want to protect ourselves.

is there a way to introduce fake data or noise? what about opting out?

is there a law being broken here that we can make into a lawsuit? i wonder if there is a precedent regarding restraining orders or unwanted surveillance by private entities...

I agree some of this is happening but some things don't add up.

Is there a huge delay in this data? Because why don't law agencies use it to find criminals? Like I have 2 crimes at these two locations. Who was around these 2 locations at these times etc.

But if hedge funds are trading on it, they need very low latencies?

> But if hedge funds are trading on it, they need very low latencies?

Not quite. Hedge funds aren't trading real time on this data. They use this data to essentially figure out how a business is doing before they announce that information. Essentially, if x% of our data went to Chipotle in 2016 and y% went in 2017, and y >> x, then we expect Chipotle's earnings to be higher.

You might be confusing hedge funds in general with the strategy of high frequency trading. Not all funds trade at high frequency.

Law agencies are using it, with some controversy:


RE: "That's why Apple is trying hard to restrict it without scaring off consumers" Don't you understand why Apple V-2 (the one who works for shareholders, not users as Apple V-1 did) is trying to restrict APPs from selling your information? Its because they are competing with Apple, who is trying to sell the same information for maximum revenue. Everything at Apple V-2 is driven by greed and profit. If looking good publicly is needed to generate sales, they'll also try to do that. But what happens behind closed doors doesn't necessarily match the promoted image. (yes I'm cynical. I've been around long enough to recognize the BS happening).

Making a cell phone out of a pi with a sim card and gps daughter board is sounding less and less crazy each day. Really looking forward to when the librem phone starts shipping. I wonder if they've really been thorough enough vetting hardware for those bare-metal security issues.

This is at once staggering and completely unsurprising that companies would violate user trust in such a way and sell data without proper vetting that exploits people and could potentially put them in danger. Yet another episode in the misadventures of techno-illiterate regulation and totally unread TOS agreements.

Even a RPI won't help you unless you can build all of the software for the microprocessors which drive the wireless stack. Even then, vendors (e.g. Qualcomm) will already have their software on the chip when you get it.

A completely open spec, open source set of components is what the community has desired for a long time. As standards get more complex and evolve faster, 4G and beyond, it becomes less possible to keep up in the open.

True, but at least you'd have somewhat more granular control and be able to do things like put a hardware switch on the transceiver. Crude, but it would at least work for when you're not actively using it.

I guess that's no different than a faraday pouch though.

And the complicit employees letting them get away with it.

> This data is sold to whoever wants it. Hedge funds or services who analyze it for hedge funds is the big one. It's normal to track hundreds of millions of people a day and trade stocks based on where they go. This isn't fantasy, it's what happens every day.

Honestly, this is the least bothersome part of the whole thing. The only problem is that there's no way I trust anyone involved to properly anonymize and secure the data in question.

I am a journalist and want to know more about how hedge funds use/abuse this. Please get in touch if you have first-hand knowledge: fbajak@ap.org.

How much of this data is archived and searchable?

Most of the descriptions of the service so far indicate a real time or near real time feed. I'm curious if it's possible to go take a phone number and ask "give me location data for this person around xx:xx at yyyy-mm-dd."

Isn't this covered under CPNI [1]? Something that consumers can opt out?

[1] https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Customer_proprietary_network_inf...

Wow, thanks sharing. Does it make a difference if I use an Android phone vs the iPhone?

These days it seems like you need to remove all the batteries from your phone/smartwatch/assorted botnet devices to get any sort of privacy.

And then you'd still have a half dozen CCTV cameras on you.

I am a journalist for a major news organization and would like to know specifics about hedge funds and the like and how they use this data. Reach me at sfrancisbjr@gmail.com

What specific data about the person is traded alongside their location history in the... schemes that you describe? (name? Some govt ID number? Phone number? Address? ....)

>Almost every web/smartphone mapping company is doing it

Are you aware of any device vendors and/or providers that aren't doing this?

Likewise ISPs are selling sensitive DNS data like crazy and most users probably think the green lock keeps them safe from that.

> That's why Apple is trying hard to restrict it without scaring off consumers.

Do you have any details on this?

No, that is an entirely different matter regarding far more precise location information.

I am a journalist and would like to know more. Reach me at sfrancisbjr@gmail.com if you can help.

I'm a journalist and would like to know more. Please contact me at fbajak@ap.org

Ah yes I've personally seen this while working at an OEM. There are a lot of other insane things happening on a phone like CIQ. FYI, listening to users via microphone is one thing that actually does not happen.

Is it this bad in other countries too? Or just U.S?

The article mentions Canadian carriers too.

i’m not quite following. are you saying that individual,identifiable location data is being collected and sold?

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