Cell Phone Evolution
Cell phones are useful for a lot of things, but owning one does have consequences, like the ability for 3rd party organizations or government entities to track your location down to 25-50 feet at any time your phone is connected to a cell tower.
The NYT reports:
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, wrote in a letter this week to the Federal Communications Commission that Securus confirmed that it did not “conduct any review of surveillance requests.” The senator said relying on customers to provide documentation was inadequate. “Wireless carriers have an obligation to take affirmative steps to verify law enforcement requests,” he wrote, adding that Securus did not follow those procedures.
The service provided by Securus reveals a potential weakness in a system that is supposed to protect the private information of millions of cellphone users. With customers’ consent, carriers sell the ability to acquire location data for marketing purposes like providing coupons when someone is near a business, or services like roadside assistance or bank fraud protection. Companies that use the data generally sign contracts pledging to get people’s approval — through a response to a text message, for example, or the push of a button on a menu — or to otherwise use the data legally.
But the contracts between the companies, including Securus, are “the legal equivalent of a pinky promise,” Mr. Wyden wrote. The F.C.C. said it was reviewing the letter.
Courts are split on whether investigators need a warrant based on probable cause to acquire location data. In some states, a warrant is required for any sort of cellphone tracking. In other states, it is needed only if an investigator wants the data in real time. And in others no warrant is needed at all.
Other experts said the law should apply for any communications on a network, not just phone calls. “If the phone companies are giving someone a direct portal into the real-time location data on all of their customers, they should be policing it,” said Laura Moy, the deputy director of the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology.
Mr. Wyden, in his letter to the F.C.C., also said that carriers had an obligation to verify whether law enforcement requests were legal. But Securus cuts the carriers out of the review process, because the carriers do not receive the legal documents.
The letter called for an F.C.C. investigation into Securus, as well as the phone companies and their protections of user data. Mr. Wyden also sent letters to the major carriers, seeking audits of their relationships with companies that buy consumer data. Representatives for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon said the companies had received the letters and were investigating.
(click here to continue reading Service Meant to Monitor Inmates’ Calls Could Track You, Too – The New York Times.)
In this particular instance, the 3rd parties selling your location data is called 3Cinteractive and LocationSmart, but there are hundreds more such companies who have built their businesses on turning your location into sellable data, most of which are relatively obscure.
Securus received the data from a mobile marketing company called 3Cinteractive, according to 2013 documents from the Florida Department of Corrections. Securus said that for confidentiality reasons it could not confirm whether that deal was still in place, but a spokesman for Mr. Wyden said the company told the senator’s office it was. In turn, 3Cinteractive got its data from LocationSmart, a firm known as a location aggregator, according to documents from those companies. LocationSmart buys access to the data from all the major American carriers, it says.
How does it work?
“Envision a cell site,” says Allen (a typical tower appears in the photo above). “They’re triangular, and each side has about 120 degrees of sweep.” Every time a signal is transmitted to a nearby phone, says Allen, there is a round-trip delay to the mobile device and back. By using all three sides of the triangle to “talk” to the mobile device, the tower can triangulate which edge of the base station is closest to the device. “Typically the accuracy return varies,” says Allen. “In urban settings, it can be accurate down to several blocks; in suburban settings, several hundred meters.”
“We can locate any subscriber,” says Allen, “and companies want all those subscribers to be addressable,” or discoverable. Normally, this requires passing through some privacy gateways, says Allen. “The end user must opt in through a Web portal or SMS, or an app like Foursquare,” he says, per “universal” CTIA and MMA guidelines, and carriers’ own privacy protocol.
But with enterprise services, there’s a catch. “In a workplace scenario, the corporate entity has the right to opt-in those devices,” says Allen. “The [employee] is typically notified, but the opt-in is up to the employer.”
In other words: if your employer owns your phone, tablet or 3G-enabled computer, they’re entitled to own your location, too.
(click here to continue reading iPhones as Homing Beacons: How AT&T and Verizon Help Companies Track Employees – CBS News.)
Even Apple, a corporation that prides itself on not selling users data as much as their competitors, has acknowledged that users data has sometimes been sold.
9To5 Mac reports:
Over the last few days, Apple has seemingly started cracking down on applications that share location data with third-parties. In such cases, Apple has been removing the application in question and informing developers that their app violates two parts of the App Store Review Guidelines…
Sylvania HomeKit Light Strip Thus far, we’ve seen several cases of Apple cracking down on these types of applications. The company informs developers via email that “upon re-evaluation,” their application is in violation of sections 5.1.1 and 5.1.2 of the App Store Review Guidelines, which pertain to transmitting user location data and user awareness of data collection.
Legal – 5.1.1 and Legal 5.1.2
The app transmits user location data to third parties without explicit consent from the user and for unapproved purposes.
Apple explains that developers must remove any code, frameworks, or SDKs that relate to the violation before their app can be resubmitted to the App Store
(click here to continue reading Apple cracking down on applications that send location data to third-parties | 9to5Mac.)