DFRI, the Swedish organisation for digital rights, sent a handful och activists to the city of Västerås, to block the tracking of mobile phones the city is doing. In the photo above Anders Sundman informs a passer-by of the activity, while the device seen on the statue is actively blocking the monitoring of peoples phones. DFRI have written blogposts (in Swedish here) about wifi-tracking and an individuals right to anonymous sunday walks, now that our constant companion the cell-phone is in our pockets leaking info about us. Bumbee Labs have created something they call IOPS (Indoor Outdoor Positioning System), which can track you as you pass through malls and the towns square, simply by your phone. Unlike the iBeacon and other similar shopping enhancers, this is not opt-in.
Patrik Wallström, senior researcher, spoke to us about the action: "We heard that Västerås was going to use the tracking system, and built a simple device that interrupts it, so that we could inform passers by about while we were using it. “
Patrik Wallström: "We found several trackers in the city, one was above the doors of an H&M shop, tracking every consumer going in and out of the store."
Dabs:"How does the device work?"
Patrik Wallström: "It's quite simple, there's a python script running on a Raspberry Pi that sends out junk info when you're near a probing device. It generates the junk with random words from Orwell's 1984."
Dabs: "1984? Nice touch! So, this tracking is a dream come true for city planners and retail data collection though, they can see how traffic moves throughout their scanning ares, and can see how consumers walk around, if they are repeat customers, etc."
Patrik Wallström: "That's where the integrity comes in, how long are they storing your MAC address? Do they combine this with any other databases? In theory this technique could be used to track you all over the country, and the thing is nobody asked you. This is a form of self-defence.”
Patrik Wallström: "That's why we did it. We wanted to inform the public how much information they're bleeding with their phones. If you have wifi on, you're blasting your MAC address to everyone as you walk around.”
Bumbee Labs defends their IOPS product and assures us all that there's no nefarious thought behind tracking people.
"Throughout the development of IOPS we consulted the leading legal experts about the manipulation of data, to insure that we're doing legally and ethically proper."
That may be swell enough for some, but the majority of the people that DFRI are uncomfortable with being monitored in this way. DFRI's action reminds us all that our phones are trackers.
Remember when Cryptophone users discovered fake cellphone towers all over the USA? Our privacy rights are important, despite that fact that people default allows Google to monitor every step we take.
“What we find suspicious is that a lot of these interceptors are right on top of U.S. military bases.” says Goldsmith. “Whose interceptor is it? Who are they, that’s listening to calls around military bases? The point is: we don’t really know whose they are.”