Archive for the ‘Location Tracking’ Category

Video surveillance in citi bikes?

August 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Citi Bike Double Mini Spy CameraRecently, a blog post by John Powers caused some excitement and confusion. Powers posted an article stating that New York City’s citi bikes have cameras hidden in them, which film traffic as well as the driver. He even quoted a police commissioner who explained that they are used for catching criminals.

However, as it turns out, the story was fake. Citi bikes do not have cameras hidden inside. But it wouldn’t be surprising and is not unrealistic. Especially, since cameras in cars are becoming more common and even modern light posts are becoming more intelligent. Cameras in bikes would help investigate traffic accidents. However, I doubt that they would be useful for anything else and just for this purpose the investment would probably be too high.


Using GPS to hijack ships and crash drones

July 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Satellite navigation systems such as GPS, the Global Positioning System that provides location information for our smartphones and navigation systems, have become a very useful tool in our daily lives. While today we mostly rely on the US GPS, built in the 1970s, even Europe, after many delays, will finally have its own system (Russia already has their own called GLONASS).

However, the more we rely on GPS navigation, not only for posting our location on Facebook but for car, plane and ship navigation, the more incidents happen, which show the vulnerability of the technology. In 2012 a drone by the Austrian manufacturer Schiebel crashed in South Korea, killing an engineer. It was believed back then that this happened in connection with GPS signal jamming by North Korea, which caused navigation problems in the past. This adds to other drone vulnerabilities discovered in recent years, such as unencrypted video feeds.

Now, students of the University of Texas showed in an experiment how they could hijack a Yacht using GPS spoofing without any crew member noticing (similar to what Iran claimed to have done in 2011). They achieved this by creating a fake GPS signal and slowly increasing its signal strength until the ships automatic navigation system completely relied on this signal. Then, they slowly changed the signal to make the Yacht believe it is off course and to correct for it. Here is a description about the method:

“Anti-drone city” to protect from attacks

February 11, 2013 Leave a comment
(c) Asher J. Kohn

(c) Asher J. Kohn

Following my recent post about the anti-drone hoodie, the work of Asher J. Kohn is worth mentioning. He drafted an architectural concept for an “anti-drone city“, which uses several technological tricks to defend against detection from drones. Towers, which change heat patterns are used to confuse thermal detection systems. Windows made out of LED screens project changing patterns to produce false detections. Displays in the courtyard show QR patterns and fake shadows.

All deflection systems used are meant to confuse completely autonomous military drones to draw attention away from humans. However, as soon as a human is in the loop and looks at the drone’s camera images all this effort is worthless. Further, the concept is targeted at military applications and thus is basically another defence system for war zones.

I believe that anything developed to save human lives is a good effort. But concepts that can protect individuals from urban, every-day drone surveillance are worth thinking of as well. For example, wouldn’t it be interesting to develop a kind of opt-out surveillance system? To define a standard, in which individuals can choose if they want to be seen or not? Similar to location tracking on smart phones. Individuals, who do not want to be tracked would be left out of the image (e.g. by pixelating them or replacing them with an avatar). Of course, this system could be overruled for Police use but it would protect us from private drone surveillance in the future. It would be a good compromise between growing drone usage and the protection of our privacy. I believe, these ideas are worth developing further.

Starting from March, Facebook might track all mobile users

February 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Facebook TrackingAccording to a report by Bloomberg published today (in German on n24), Facebook is working on a new version of its mobile app, which will incorporate many more location-based features than before. Specifically, it will notify you if any of your friends are close-by. This is not a new concept, which for example has been out there in the form of the Highlight app or Google Latitude. However, these location-tracking apps do not have a wide user base due to privacy concerns and their battery-draining performance. Facebook adding such a feature is a big deal, considering their user base of one Billion people. Similar to Highlight and Latitude, the app would track the location of users in the background, even if the app is closed. Fortunately, Apple’s design guidelines require developers to get the explicit OK from users to track their location. However, many users might not be aware that once they turn tracking on, they are tracked all the time. For me as a user, this will be a great feature and I will use it. Often I think that it is absurd how many people we know in our city and how few we meet by chance. This could be a great social tool and with a large user base it could actually work. It is just important to be aware what is happening in the background and to turn it off if you really do not want to be tracked.

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