Sunday, May 1, 2011

Phone Tracking, Continued!

Remember my post, When will they stop, April 21, 2011, where I talked about law enforcement buying equipment to download information from your cell phone? And Apple going out of their way to make these illegal downloads easier? Well, there is a LOT of follow-up on this story. Where to start...

First of all, do Android phones track you like Apple phones do? Well, yes and no. It is true that they do track you. Making phones location-aware, and feeding that information back to the home office, supposedly helps provide us all with better services on our phones. Not sure if that's true or not, but that's the claim.

But there are some differences between Android and Apple. First of all, Android phones don't track you without your permission. Or do they? From Phandroid:
"Google Might Be Tracking Your Location, But Not Without Your Permission" by Kevin Krause

According to Google: "All location sharing on Android is opt-in by the user. We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices. Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user."

This article goes on to make a good point about what we should really be worried about:
"The real debate, as brought up by the Wall Street Journal, concerns the anonymity of the user the data is collected from. Turns out those fears are mostly unfounded as well. A unique identifier is attached to the location data, but that identifier, which corresponds with the phone, is not paired with any person data such as phone number, name, or email address. Therefore the ability to pinpoint the specific user of any specific phone is virtually nonexistent."

That little word, "virtually," undermines the whole story, unfortunately.

The data that is stored on Android phones is also harder to access. From Ars Technica:
"Android phones keep location cache, too, but it's harder to access" by Chris Foresman

Unfortunately, harder to access is apparently not hard enough:
"While the data [on Android phones] is harder to access for the average user, it's as trivial to access for a knowledgeable hacker or forensics expert."

"Unlike iOS, though, Android phones aren't typically synced with a computer, so the files would need to be extracted from a rooted device directly. This distinction makes the data harder to access for the average user, but easy enough for an experienced hacker or forensic expert."

"Another important difference, according to developer Mike Castelman, is that Android keeps less data overall than iOS devices. 'The main difference that I can see is that Android seems to have a cache versus iOS's log,' Castleman, who contributed some code improvements to Eriksson's tool, told Ars. That is, Android appears to limit the caches to 50 entries for cell tower triangulation and 200 entries for WiFi basestation location. iOS's consolidated.db, on the other hand, seems to keep a running tally of data since iOS is first installed and activated on a device. iOS will also keep multiple records of the same tower or basestation, while Android only keeps a single record."

"Regardless of those differences, however, the data could be used in the same way. For instance, said Castleman, 'if you were arrested or something shortly after a crime was committed, either device would contain evidence that could be used against you.'"

And back to the discussion of why phone makers want to collect this information...

"While Google is also using the data to improve its internal cell tower and WiFi location database or to improve call routing like Apple, it also uses the data to improve Google Maps and collect information about traffic patterns. The problem with Google's data collection is that unlike Apple, the information sent to Google contains a unique identification number that can be tied to a particular phone. While technically anonymous, that number could potentially be used to trace back to an individual user."

Apple has since issued a statement about this issue. Can you guess what they said? If you have been watching Apple over the years it shouldn't be too hard. Yes, we do it. But it's for your own good. We know what's best for you, as always.

"Apple's Steve Jobs responds to iPhone tracking questions" by Rosa Golijan

If you ever wanted to learn how to write in corporate, legal-eze, weasel words, here's a real gem. From Apple's press release:
"Apple Q&A on Location Data"
1. Why is Apple tracking the location of my iPhone?
Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.
2. Then why is everyone so concerned about this?
Providing mobile users with fast and accurate location information while preserving their security and privacy has raised some very complex technical issues which are hard to communicate in a soundbite. Users are confused, partly because the creators of this new technology (including Apple) have not provided enough education about these issues to date.
3. Why is my iPhone logging my location?
The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested. Calculating a phone’s location using just GPS satellite data can take up to several minutes. iPhone can reduce this time to just a few seconds by using Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data to quickly find GPS satellites, and even triangulate its location using just Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data when GPS is not available (such as indoors or in basements). These calculations are performed live on the iPhone using a crowd-sourced database of Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data that is generated by tens of millions of iPhones sending the geo-tagged locations of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers in an anonymous and encrypted form to Apple.
4. Is this crowd-sourced database stored on the iPhone?
The entire crowd-sourced database is too big to store on an iPhone, so we download an appropriate subset (cache) onto each iPhone. This cache is protected but not encrypted, and is backed up in iTunes whenever you back up your iPhone. The backup is encrypted or not, depending on the user settings in iTunes. The location data that researchers are seeing on the iPhone is not the past or present location of the iPhone, but rather the locations of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers surrounding the iPhone’s location, which can be more than one hundred miles away from the iPhone. We plan to cease backing up this cache in a software update coming soon (see Software Update section below).
5. Can Apple locate me based on my geo-tagged Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data?
No. This data is sent to Apple in an anonymous and encrypted form. Apple cannot identify the source of this data.
6. People have identified up to a year’s worth of location data being stored on the iPhone. Why does my iPhone need so much data in order to assist it in finding my location today?
This data is not the iPhone’s location data—it is a subset (cache) of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database which is downloaded from Apple into the iPhone to assist the iPhone in rapidly and accurately calculating location. The reason the iPhone stores so much data is a bug we uncovered and plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below). We don’t think the iPhone needs to store more than seven days of this data.
7. When I turn off Location Services, why does my iPhone sometimes continue updating its Wi-Fi and cell tower data from Apple’s crowd-sourced database?
It shouldn’t. This is a bug, which we plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below).
8. What other location data is Apple collecting from the iPhone besides crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data?
Apple is now collecting anonymous traffic data to build a crowd-sourced traffic database with the goal of providing iPhone users an improved traffic service in the next couple of years.
9. Does Apple currently provide any data collected from iPhones to third parties?
We provide anonymous crash logs from users that have opted in to third-party developers to help them debug their apps. Our iAds advertising system can use location as a factor in targeting ads. Location is not shared with any third party or ad unless the user explicitly approves giving the current location to the current ad (for example, to request the ad locate the Target store nearest them).
10. Does Apple believe that personal information security and privacy are important?
Yes, we strongly do. For example, iPhone was the first to ask users to give their permission for each and every app that wanted to use location. Apple will continue to be one of the leaders in strengthening personal information security and privacy.
Blah, blah, blah. I think my summary above stands.  Nothing was denied.

What about the State of Michigan state police? Maybe they're not as bad as we initially thought. From the National Motorists Association:
"NMA E-Newsletter #120: An Unusual Confluence of Events"

"While several media outlets were reporting that the Michigan State Police (MSP) were operating CelleBrite mobile forensic devices that could extract drivers’ cell phone data during routine traffic stops, our members were reading the Driving Freedoms story ("A Powerful Case by Law Enforcement for Safe and Realistic Speed Limits") that praised the MSP for their principled stand against state speed limits set too low."

"So during the span of last week, (1) our article (written several weeks earlier) commending the MSP was published, (2) the MSP were criticized for not being forthcoming about a program that had Fourth Amendment implications, and (3) we coincidentally dedicated last Tuesday’s weekly email newsletter to a story about the continued erosion of our rights against illegal search and seizure."

"So what gives? Do the MSP favor drivers’ rights, as evidenced by their advocacy of the setting of proper speed limits as opposed to setting speed traps, while they are also trampling our Fourth Amendment rights by extracting personal information without warrant?"

"At the heart of the cell phone data extraction story are freedom of information requests by the ACLU to the MSP about the program, requests that some claim have been stonewalled. In fact, it has been reported that the MSP wanted to be reimbursed for costs of over half a million dollars to respond to the ACLU’s original records requests. Seriously?"

"Another aspect of the story is that while the MSP bought the CelleBrite devices in 2006, we could find no charges leveled by Michigan motorists that their cell phones were being confiscated by the MSP for warrantless data dumps."

"Actually, a July 12, 2010 NMA email alert to Michigan members noted that the MSP issued the following directive to its police force regarding the state’s (then) new anti-texting law: 'Officers may seek to obtain consent from an individual to examine his or her 2-way communication device; however, absent consent, officers may not lawfully seize an individual’s device and examine the contents.'"

"It took a few days for the MSP to officially respond to last week’s data extraction story. In a statement outlining the procedure for using the agency’s CelleBrite devices, the MSP said that police must hold a search warrant, or obtain consent from the mobile device holder first. They also noted that the data extraction devices are only used by 'specialty teams on criminal cases . . . not . . . to extract citizen’s personal information during routine traffic stops.'"

"The Michigan State Police do deserve to be commended for their active support of speed limits based on the measured data of free-flowing traffic. However, it isn’t clear whether the last word on their mobile data extraction program has been heard."

So maybe the Michigan state police are not as bad as they appeared to be in my initial story.

Cell phones aren't the only things you have to worry about with regard to tracking. GPSs, TomTom in this case, are also working against you. Does this sound like ethical corporate behavior to you? Again, from
"Cops Grab Motorist GPS Data to Set Up Speed Camera Traps"

Apparently some TomTom GPSs have SIM cards with which they communicate back to the GPS manufacturer via cellular network. And TomTom went ahead and handed this information over to local police so that they could set up speed traps based on where people might be speeding.

How's this for a pathetic statement by TomTom:
"'We learned today that police in The Netherlands are using that information to identify road stretches where people in general and on average are driving too fast,' CEO Harold Goddijn said in a video statement. 'They use that also to put up speed cameras and speed traps. And we don't like that because our customers don't like it. We will prevent that type of usage of our data in the future.... What we don't want is that we have unpleasant surprises for our customers who are helping to create that information.'"

How naive can this guy be? He didn't realize that could, and likely would, happen when he handed the information over? Here's the really sad part, continuing from the article:
"Goddijn insisted that the information was shared with local authorities so that they could better understand road usage and plan engineering improvements. In a written statement, the firm promised to modify its licensing terms with government officials to ensure such uses would be prohibited. The company stressed that it only collects anonymous speed data and location information, so it would not be possible to identify particular speeders. The company's swift response to a Dutch media report exposing the police use of the system was likely motivated by a desire to avoid a significant market risk."

Apparently he really believes that governments will abide by such terms, even if they sign the modified licensing agreements.

Oh, and one more thing. Even if you don't think you can be tracked, your cell phone provider will stab you in the back. Without a warrant. From right down the road from where I live:
"Georgia Supreme Court Database, Published Opinion Details, Devega v. The State, Case No.: S09a2064"

In this case police asked that a cell phone service provider track a suspect WITHOUT A WARRANT, and the cell phone provider complied!!! And the Georgia Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that this is okay! This is simply amazing to me. This was a clear Fourth Amendment violation. But, as we've discussed before, few people care about our Constitution anymore.

The basis of the ruling was that there is no expectation of privacy when you travel on a public road. If you were being observed as you drove, you have no right to keep that information private. But what the court completely missed, in my opinion, is how this information was gathered by police. To use a simple example to illustrate my point, let's say that the suspect was talking to a friend while he drove, and he mentioned where he was during this conversation. Does that mean that police have the right to place a wiretap, without a warrant, on the friend's phone to gather this information? Of course not. The case should not hinge on WHAT information was gathered but HOW it was gathered. Amazing how supposedly intelligent people can miss the most basic distinctions.

So no matter what you think, you can be tracked. And your government will not protect your freedom. I know, shocking. (That's sarcasm, by the way, if it doesn't come through digitally.)